Many refugee claimants arrive in Vancouver with minimal resources and face the daunting reality of being homeless. With little knowledge of the services that can provide help and no one they can really trust, they are extremely vulnerable. The Red Cross First Contact program aims to provide these refugee claimants with the tools that will help prevent marginalization, distress and exploitation.
What is First Contact?
Launched on November 1st, 2008, First Contact provides refugee claimants with access to emergency assistance, information and referrals through a 24/7 multilingual phone line. To date, over 1000 refugee claimants have been assisted by Red Cross Staff and First Contact volunteers in the B.C. Lower Mainland.
Refugees face multiple barriers in navigating the refugee determination system and settling in Vancouver, including language and financial constraints, and lack of familiarity with government agencies, service providers, the transportation system and geography. Refugee claimants are more likely to access First Contact because of familiarity with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society in their country of origin.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in Vancouver have agreed to provide claimants at all ports of entry, in detention, and at CIC offices with a Red Cross card that provides First Contact program contact information. Inland claimants can also access the service through community agencies.
Assistance in first language will include:
Providing accurate, timely information
Providing referrals to settlement agencies, legal, paralegal, health, government and other services and resources.
Emergencies services which can provide refugee claimants with emergency shelter, transportation and food for up to 72 hours after making a refugee claim.
Through the use of Volunteer Interpreters, First Contact has a roster of 54 different languages including: English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, Farsi, Dari, and French.
Building on success
The program builds on the success of Red Cross First Contact in Toronto and was in response to requests by local community agencies to establish the service in Vancouver where similar front end service does not exist. An extensive feasibility study, which was conducted in 2007, led to the consultation of recently arrived refugee claimants, multiple refugee-serving agencies and key stakeholders. Gaps in services were identified and helped define First Contact, its scope and objectives.
Coalition of agencies
The Red Cross has facilitated the construction of a coalition of more than 20 community agencies working collaboratively to assist claimants, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Red Cross assists agencies in meeting their needs through First Contact and builds capacity within the sector to better address the needs of vulnerable clients.
For more information on First Contact, please contact:
First Contact Coordinator