Letter: Travel Loans Burden Refugees Disproportionately

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada responded to CPJ's October 2017 letter about our support for proposed changes to the Immigration Loans Program. 

In this response, we continued to emphasize concern over the extensive burden of travel loan repayment on resettled refugees' ability to adjust to new life in Canada. We repeated our recommendation for the federal government to cover all costs for resettled refugee travel to Canada, while raising an inquiry over the costs of administering the program.

CPJ believes it is a profound disservice that newly resettled refugees would experience poverty in Canada, and it is our government's duty to remove any barriers, including the burden of travel loan repayment, that would prevent refugees from establishing financial stability upon resettlement.

Letter

Dear Minister Hussen,

On behalf of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) I would like to express my deep appreciation for the thoughtful response from S. Charbonneau of your office on Oct. 20, 2017 (to my letter on Oct. 11, 2017) concerning proposed changes to the Immigration Loans Program.

In light of the decision currently underway, I’d like to reiterate the importance of financial stability for refugees who are trying to establish themselves in Canada. It is true that for any recent immigrant or newcomer, it can be difficult to adjust to a new life, new language, and new community. While all immigrants may face financial challenges, refugees can be particularly vulnerable to poverty. Government Assisted Refugees, those noted most vulnerable by the UNHCR, have faced severe circumstances that necessitate their resettlement. Many experienced traumas in the nation they were forced to flee.

In CPJ’s recent report, Poverty Trends 2017, we noted the Statistics Canada figure that 31.4% of new immigrants and refugees live in poverty. Our report states that for refugees, “trauma and persecution prior to arrival is often worsened by further challenges in the settlement process.” This can be due in part to delayed access to services because of backlogs in the system, difficulties in finding good employment and the time required for accommodation to a new life here. A full three quarters of Sponsorship Agreement Holders in our 2017 survey, A Half-Welcome, were “concerned” or “very concerned” about the hefty costs of travel loan repayment.

It is a profound disservice that individuals who have already faced extreme terror or violence in their home countries would then experience poverty in Canada.

Travel loans, regardless of the duration set aside for repayment, pose an unnecessary burden on refugees trying to start their new lives in Canada. According to the Canada Gazette website, “resettled refugees constitute 98% of Immigration Loans Program users”, a clear indication that financial strain is overwhelmingly felt by refugees.

When refugees are indebted, their ability to become contributing members of society becomes stunted. Some must take on multiple jobs just to get by. Honourable Minister, may I ask what it costs the government to administer the travel loan program? Between issuing loans and going after those that are defaulted – considering the strain on refugees themselves, and the expense of keeping the program afloat – I wonder if the cost is not indeed too high.

As far as is possible, the Canadian government must join private sponsors in removing barriers that impede refugees’ abilities to successfully settle in Canada. CPJ asks that the government move beyond simply removing interest charges or providing deferrals on travel loans, and instead waive the burden of travel costs for resettled refugees altogether.

Sincerely,

(Rev.) James C. Dekker
Chairman of the Board

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