A non-profit community-based organization that is committed in addressing the immigration, integration, education, health, housing, social service, culture, and economic development needs of Somali Canadians and other immigrants in Canada through programs, service and advocacy.
The history of Somali Immigrant Aid Organizations (S.I.A.O) in Toronto goes back to the early 1980’s. It was not until 1985 that the needs of the Somali community became apparent with the growing number of refugees from Somalia. For this reason, Somali Immigrant Aid Organization started as a working group in January 1986 to facilitate awareness of the refugee needs, promote understanding of the impact of Canadian Immigration policies, practice on refugee relief and encourage direct services to Somali refugees. As a result, Somali Immigrant Aid Organization requested the Canadian Government to respond more effectively to settlement and the resettlement needs of Somali refugees and their families who were displaced in countries around the world due to the civil war in Somalia.
We worked very hard with other organizations like Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) to address the thousands of Somali refugees that were in limbo and the identity documents (ID) issues which were that the Somali refugees could not reunite with their spouses and young children outside of Canada. They could not go to university or college. They were not eligible for student loans. They could not travel outside Canada. They could not get better-paid jobs and people’s mental health suffered as a result of their powerlessness. Also, we worked on Undocumented Convention Refugee in Canada Class (UCRCC), no moratorium on removals to Somalia, DNA tests, Bill C43, Bill C51, Bill C24 and barriers to the resettlement of Somali refugees. We have worked in close collaboration with all levels of government, IRCC and other partners, as well as the community to address these challenges.
In March 1987, a series of meetings were held to discuss the needs of the community with the support of Parkdale Community Legal Services. Out of these meetings a framework of a Somali Canadian organization was developed. Later in 1987, the Somali groups branched out from the initial organization as a result of political issues in Somalia. In August 1988, Somali Immigrant Aid Organization (S.I.A.O) was incorporated and continued its work in the community. In 1990, S.I.A.O opened an office at 11 St. Joseph Street, Toronto, ON, and became a member of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and in 1992 the organization moved to the present address on Weston Road.
The number of people in our community has in the last couple of years grown from 65,000 to over 90,000 and the number seems to grow daily. Somali refugee having initially come through the major airports of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and through the Canada-U.S. border, almost always move to Toronto because of the large Somali community. Next to the Sri Lankan community, ours has one of the largest influxes of desperate refugees seeking refuge in Canada in the 1980s.
We are now celebrating over 30 years of services and support to Somali and other refugee/newcomer communities. In the early years, the organization struggled due to lack of necessary funds, and it was the spirit of small donations from its members and Board of Directors being the only assets that supported the organization. In the past years, S.I.A.O has obtained funds from organizations and all three levels of government. Among other main funders in the past include Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, City of York, Health Canada, Ministry of Social Services, Province of Ontario, and Ontario Social Development.
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Our current work focuses on building community capacity