Immigrant seniors share challenges of Canada life during forum

Immigrant seniors voiced their concerns about poverty and the complex issues they face living in Vancouver with key decision-makers during an ISSofBC and United Way of the Lower Mainland forum, called Moving Forward: ‘Unheard Voices’ partnered with South Granville Seniors Centre and the Afghan Seniors In Action.

According to a forum report highlighting these concerns and recommendations, recognition of past work and education experience, a lack of familiarity with Canadian society, low English abilities and weak social networks and supports all lead to higher degrees of income insecurity for newcomer seniors than Canadian-born seniors.

“Seniors in these two communities face common concerns about poverty and complex issues in their new homes. Many immigrant and refugee seniors fall through the cracks and, as a result, live their last years in poor health and poverty,” said Chris Friesen, ISSofBC Director of Settlement Services during his presentation at the forum Tuesday, March 3.

Seniors also shared their personal stories highlighting their day-to-day challenges living in Vancouver including Miriam Villalba who was born in Uruguay and immigrated to Vancouver in 1994. Due to the death of her husband in 2001, she struggled to make ends meet supporting her only daughter working as a cleaner. Now at the age of 66, Miriam is in retirement years and questioned why she contributed to the Canadian Pension Plan for 18 years but still lives in poverty.

In addition to identifying the challenges newcomer immigrants face, government representatives, health authorities, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the B.C. Seniors Advocate recommended and documented solutions along with immigrant seniors. The solutions include providing English language classes catering to older learners, more outreach programs to reach isolated non-English speaking seniors and increased public awareness on the contributions immigrant and refugee seniors bring to Canada (experience, education, as well as unpaid/volunteer work and childminding support).

Moving Forward: ‘Unheard Stories’ and report are dedicated to Naomi Staddon who facilitated and planned the forum, working with newcomer seniors’ leaders from smaller immigrant communities right up until she passed away in November, 2014.

View a copy of the report

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