GODERICH, ONT. -- The Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron has opened its first office in Huron County, in response to an alarming exodus of new immigrants from the area.

“Our newcomers numbers are declining,” says Geza Wordofa, director and founder of the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron. “Most of our newcomers are moving to the big city. The issue is that everybody is locked down, and nobody can meet each other.”

It’s hard enough to move to a new country and not know the language or customs or people, says Wordofa. But, the addition of COVID-19 lockdowns has meant many newcomers to Huron County have moved away to larger centres, where there are more newcomers with their background.

He says that’s the reason the association, which has an office in Stratford, just opened a satellite office inside the Bedford Hotel in Goderich, three days a week.

“We are welcoming them. We can meet them here. We can talk to them. They trust us. They believe us,” says Wordofa.

They’ll be using that trust to try and convince the newcomers left in Huron County to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Wordofa says many new immigrants he’s working with cite tradition and religion as reasons for refusing the vaccine.

“They’re trying to avoid it. They’re trying not to go for the vaccine,” says Wordofa.

Those feelings of distrust are just part of what’s expected to be uncovered in a new resident survey spanning Huron County this month.

Experiences in Discrimination is a study founded by researchers at Western University in London, Ont. as they attempt to delve deeper in the newcomer experience in rural Ontario.

Kristin Crane is Huron County’s Immigration Partnership co-ordinator. She expects to learn a lot about what immigrants want and need to relocate to the region.

“And also to make better experiences for the newcomers that are already here. For all residents really, to ensure we are that welcoming and inclusive community, that we want to be."

Wordofa hopes the multicultural association’s new satellite office in downtown Goderich, will be an immediate step in attracting, and simply retaining Huron County’s “newcomer” population.