Monday, 4 April 2016

New government policies put a damper on private refugee sponsorship

In the past six months, thousands of highly motivated people across Canada have come together to form sponsorship groups to bring in Syrian refugees, raising millions of dollars to support them in their first year. Given the priority the new Canadian government was giving to Syrian refugees, most have been optimistic that a family would be assigned to them soon and arrive within a few months.

But at the end of February, when the government had fulfilled its election promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, it quietly and without warning changed its policy and the flow of refugees to sponsorship group was almost completely stopped. It appears that the majority of the 8,000 privately sponsored Syrian refugees who have arrived so far (17,000 were government-sponsored) were old applications initiated and in the pipeline long before the Alan Kurdi photo and therefore not part of the nationwide community private-sponsorship trend that started in September 2015.
To voice their anger about the change in government policies, more than 300 members of sponsorship groups gathered in a downtown Toronto church on March 30. The very emotionally charged meeting was convened by John Sewell, the former mayor of Toronto, who summed up the main policy changes that will result in a considerable delay in bringing in Syrian refugees:

1. The government has released all re-assigned and temporary staff processing Syrian refugees and closed processing centres in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. This means we are back to a system where it takes months to process and register a family through regular visa offices.

2. The government has released re-assigned temporary staff in the Winnipeg processing centre and no longer prioritizes Syrian families. Processing times used to be 10 days; now we are back to a three month processing time for a family.

3. There will no longer be a special priority for Syrians: they will be treated like other refugees, which means a long wait.

Syrian refugees will also have to pay for their flights to Canada again.

Arif Virani, Parliamentary Secretary of John McCallum, the Minister of Immigration Refugees and Citizenship, was at the meeting and told us that sponsorship applications received until midnight on March 31st – the next day!- would most likely still be processed in 2016, or early 2017. Obviously, a day’s notice for this deadline was not enough for most people to finish filing their application.

What can you do?

Write a letter to minister John McCallum ( and copy his parliamentary secretary Arif Virani ( and your own MP (or better yet meet with your MP) to highlight / convey your displeasure and emphasize the following messages:

a) Government staffing / processing capacity should be restored immediately to pre-Feb, 28th levels in order to process existing and upcoming Syrian refugee applications as quickly as possible

b) No caps should be put on private sponsorships of Syrians since they are privately funded and settled - and therefore don't strain the government's settlement agencies or budget.   Furthermore, from an economic point of view, this would be a stimulus measure as there is upwards of $30mm sitting in bank accounts waiting to be spent by private sponsor groups in settling refugees. Spending this money would stimulate the economy more than leaving it sitting in bank accounts.

c) All Syrian applications currently in the pipeline, or submitted within the next 3 months, should be expedited as the Syrian situation is a huge, unique and global crisis and deserves our support and focus.

d) Overall, the government should seek to support private sponsorship groups that have formed across the country - and not abandon us in favour of their own Syrian GAR refugees.  They can do both. Privately sponsored refugees are more successfully settled compared to agency-settled refugees and have better long term outcomes (income, English skills, remaining in Canada etc.)

Please do share this information with your networks and encourage people to communicate with their MPs and Minister McCallum - we are at a cross-roads and the more people who clearly communicate with the government on this issue about what we expect government policy should be, the more likely that the Syrian refugee crisis will get the attention it deserves and private sponsorships will get the support they warrant. 

For more information and updates on this issue, go to the Toronto For Refugees blog.

What do these policy changes mean for the Ripple Refugee Group?

We had handed in applications for two more families to Lifeline Syria, but they had not been sent to the government yet. One of our group members worked until the early morning after the March 30 meeting to finalize these applications with the Lifeline Syria team to meet the March 31 deadline. We are working on the applications for two more case files and hope that the government will extend the deadline – if not, we may have to wait for a year or even longer before they will be able to come to Canada.

No comments:

Post a Comment