Speaking notes for the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Announcement related to mental health services to support newcomer youth

Speech

Toronto, Ontario

June 20, 2022

As delivered

Good morning, everyone. It is really a pleasure to be here with Kids Help Phone today.

As some of you may know, today is World Refugee Day. With over 100 million displaced persons around the world there hasn’t never been a more important time to uphold Canada’s long-standing and proud tradition of welcoming and resettling some of the world’s most vulnerable. In fact, just last week the UNHCR pointed out Canada’s leadership when it comes to resettlement around the world. You know in 2020 when much of the world rolled back their refugee resettlement programs, Canada continued on and we actually resettled in 2020, despite extremely challenging circumstances more than one-third of the total number of refugees who were settled globally anywhere in the world. This is something incredibly proud – that should make Canadians incredibly Proud. But I think it’s important that we remember that when we deal with refugee resettlement, we don’t just do it for altruistic reasons in my view, we do it because it’s also in our self-interest and that we have a moral obligation to.

The refugees that I’ve met land in our communities with an awful lot more than their suitcase and make contributions to the communities where we’ve called home for a very long time. You know, we’re going to continue to work hard to bring vulnerable people to Canada as quickly and safely as possible, and importantly, to give them the supports that they need. For example, I am proud of the fact that we have welcomed over 16,000 Afghans since last year, and I want to congratulate the many people and multiple partners who have helped us make this possible. We are proud of what we have accomplished up ‘til now and we are determined to do more.

But bringing people to Canada is only part of the story. As I mentioned it’s important that we set them up for success once they are here providing the supports that they need after they arrive. This is particularly important when it comes to young people. You know, a couple of months ago I had the opportunity as we welcomed at that point in time the 10,000 Afghan refugees who have landed here since the evacuation of Kabul. Since that time, in the past 11 weeks or so we’ve now had about 6,000 more arrive. But I was really struck as a parent of a couple of young kids, a six-year-old at home and an 11-month-old as well, the number of kids who were the same age as mine coming off that plane really shook me. When you see some of these kids who are so young, they may never remember what life was like in Afghanistan, they may never remember the fall of Kabul, but there are others who certainly will, whose life experience will be shaped by the memories that they take from the last number of months of their lives which are more challenging than what many Canadians will ever experience or perhaps even appreciate.

You know, some of these people that I’ve met, when I talk to the parents of these children express the challenges that their kids are living with, the terror of being forced to leave everything behind and start a new life across the globe to be free from persecution, violence, and potentially death. And the gratitude even at a young age, that some of the kids have expressed to me for having been given a second lease on life in Canada, makes me extremely proud to be Canadian. And I think we all deserve to share in that national proud.

You know, during my time as minister, it’s been a number of months now, I’ve met some pretty resilient kids who have come to Canada from conflict zones and are adjusting to life in their new homes. And when I see them at skating lessons with my daughter, or have a chance to play soccer with them, I see kids having the opportunity to be kids I know that we’re on the right track. But that comes to some more easily than others. You know, I was reminded of this phenomenon as well just a couple of weeks ago when I joined for the – it was the third charter flight bringing Ukrainian children who entered in Canada, I should say federally chartered flight because a huge congratulations to Newfoundland who beat us all to the punch because they wanted to do their part too, and now we’ve seen other provinces follow in their lead.

But when you see these kids come in you know they’re going to need a particular kind of support which brings me to today’s important announcement. I am so pleased to share the true partnership and with funding from the Government of Canada Kids Help Phone has begun to provide services in Dari, Pashto, Ukrainian and Russian to address the urgent needs faced by those who are fleeing Afghanistan and Ukraine. I am delighted to announce that through funding, Kids Help Phone has begun to provide services in Dari, Pashto, Ukrainian and Russian to address the urgent needs faced by those who are fleeing the conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine.

As we all know Kids Help Phone provides free 24/7 confidential mental health resources to young people across Canada and this funding is part of a larger exciting project, a $2 million dollar project in partnership between the federal government and Kids Help Phone to continue to expand its language services so it can offer counseling service through interpreter in 100 different languages by 2025. This is remarkable stuff. If we reflect again on what I mentioned in my opening that immigration and refugee resettlement is part of who we are, we need to ensure that we support people in the way that we should expect ourselves to. To see the kinds of services you’re offering is just phenomenal and I want to say personally a huge congratulations from myself and on behalf of the Government of Canada for what you’re doing. It’s going to dramatically improve the quality of life that so many young children get to experience once they are.

The funding is part of a $2 million agreement that will allow the Kids Help Phone organization to gradually (inaudible) the number of languages in which it provides professional telephone consultation services through interpreters to 100 by 2025. This incredible project is really the result of years of passionate work from Kids Help Phone. I had the opportunity and maybe I’ll share for Kathy to, to highlight later, on one of the staff members who generated this idea and it’s really that remarkable innovation and creativity that I think the organization Kids Help Phone should be incredibly proud of as well. I’m so pleased to even touch this important project in a small way on behalf of the government that’s going to eliminate barriers faced by vulnerable youth from newcomer populations who are seeking to access crucial mental health services. Our government is very proud and is going to continue to work alongside Kids Help Phone as well as more than 500 service provider organizations across Canada that we fund to help deliver settlement services to permanent residents, including resettled refugees. This includes housing supports, income supports, help finding a job, in many instances childcare, even just teaching people how to get on their communities by signing them up for the skating lessons that I mentioned or teaching people how to ride the bus.

And now as we see children fleeing war and conflict who have found safe haven in Canada, we’re going to be able to make sure that they can access counseling services in their own language. This project will help eliminate the obstacles faced by vulnerable youth in the newcomer population who wish to obtain mental health services. We’re going to continue to work day and night with all of our partners, including Kids Help Phone to ensure the success of these newcomer children to Canada. It’s an extraordinary thing to see the difference that these programs are going to make in their lives, and how communities across the country continue to welcome them with open-arms and be so dedicated to make sure they get here and do well.

Once again, I want to say thank you and I just want to maybe if I can park my notes to conclude. When we actually put the measures in place to support people after they arrive, those investments pay off in spades. There are so many opportunities for us to make the kinds of investments that actually when you look at the long-term economic outcomes will more than pay for themselves. It is a decision to welcome people to your country without providing adequate settlement services. If we choose not to, we should recognize that that is a choice. By actually making this investment as part of the $2 million dollar project, we’re going to make sure kids who have mental health needs are going to have those needs met in their own language from a very early age. These investments are going to pay off for many decades as people continue to live and thrive here in Canada. I’m so grateful to be here with you today. I want to wish everyone a happy World Refugee Day. I’m so pleased to be able to take part in today’s important event. Thank you so much for having me.

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