Letter to Minister Mendicino: Improve Refugee Integration

Early this month CPJ and the CRC for Public Dialogue sent a letter to the new IRCC Minister Marco Mendicino. We welcomed him into his new job and applauded the positive changes that the federal government has made for refugee rights since 2015.

We also called on the minister to address several lingering concerns that would help refugees to fully integrate into Canadian society for the good of all.


The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
365 Laurier Avenue West Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1

Dear Minister Mendicino,

On behalf of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) and the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue we congratulate you on your appointment to cabinet and at the same time wish you a happy new year. We wish you the blessings of wisdom and discernment as you embark on your new responsibilities as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC), and we look forward to ongoing discussion with you.

We have been working together as a coalition to animate A Half Welcome, a report that CPJ released in 2017 pertaining to the concerns of Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) regarding the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program. Their concerns included the long processing times, allocation limits and inequities in travel loan repayment (2015-16). It is commendable that government agreed to extend the loan repayment period, removed interest for future loans and further accumulation of interest on outstanding loans. The government should fully waive travel loan repayment for all refugees to enable them to settle in Canada unencumbered.

Cutting processing times and backlogs: We are pleased that A Half Welcome recommendations are echoed in your mandate – to reduce processing times, improve IRCC’s service delivery and client services by making applications timelier and less complicated, and enhancing system efficiency, including in the asylum system. In the last Parliament your government made a commitment to reduce processing times to 12 months by 2019 and to cut down on processing backlogs. While processing times have improved, they are not at 12 months and a backlog still exists. We urge you to continue reducing the backlog of PSR applications and aiming for the 12-month processing timeframe as a priority.

Family reunification We are encouraged that last year your government announced a two-year pilot project on excluded family members. We hope the program becomes permanent because family reunification is one of the objectives of Canada’s immigration policy that is key to the full integration of newcomers. However, processing times differ by region and remain much slower in Africa than other regions. We urge you to speed up and introduce standard short processing times for family reunification in all regions.

Principle of additionality: The private sponsorship system was conceived 40 years ago to engage communities in the welcome of refugees as an addition to government measures for resettlement.  Community engagement in private sponsorship helped to build social licence for the essential work of government sponsorship of especially vulnerable classes of Refugees. Between 1994 and 2014, Canada resettled twice as many GARs as PSRs but that ratio shifted between 2015 and 2019. For instance, in 2019, Canada resettled 29,950 refugees from abroad through various programs, with 19,000 (or 63.4%) privately sponsored. These numbers suggest a troubling shift away from the time-honoured principle of additionality to a focus on private sponsorship as the lead means for settlement by sponsorship.  Therefore, with the best practice of additionality in mind, we urge you to increase the number of government-assisted refugees to 20,000 per year as part of the ongoing revision and implementation of the annual Immigration Levels Plan.

PSR Quality Assurance and Monitoring: While we support the monitoring of private sponsorships by IRCC, it has been a challenge to many SAHs. It is sometimes a challenge for groups that have a family connection or are part of the ethnic or religious community of the newcomers to demonstrate that they are living up to their commitments because they do not always record or monetize their support. SAHs have limited capacity in terms of staff to respond within restrictive timelines. We urge you to continue ensuring that refugee sponsorship programs have integrity and protect newcomers from abuse and neglect. At the same time, we call on you to allow for flexible approaches to quality assurance in collaboration with SAHs.   Based on such collaboration IRCC can establish reasonable, practical and effective minimum expectations and outline how they can be implemented in ways that protect newcomers and empower sponsors.

Root causes of forced displacement: The Global Compact on Refugees recognized the fact that eliminating the root causes of forced displacement is the most effective way to achieve solutions through resolving protracted refugee situations and preventing new crises from emerging. While this is beyond your mandate, we urge you together with your colleagues in cabinet to pay attention to these root causes with the aim of finding solutions.

Tackling Barriers to a Full Welcome: Canada is a world leader in refugee intake and a beacon of multiculturalism. But when refugees get to Canada, they come face to face with its border wall – barriers to full integration due to social exclusion. We also urge you to ensure the delivery of high-quality settlement services for the successful settlement and integration of newcomers. We are also in full support of eliminating citizenship fees.

In conclusion Minister Mendicino, we encourage you to continue dialogue with civil society partners in order to build a welcoming refugee system for the common good of Canada and in compliance with our international obligations.  We are eager to discuss the matters raised in this letter with you and are committed to constructive and meaningful support for you in your critical role.  May we be in touch with your office to arrange a conversation in the near future?

Sincerely,

Willard Metzger, Executive Director, Citizens for Public Justice
Rev. Darren Roorda, Canadian Ministries Director, Christian Reformed Church
Stephen Kaduuli, Refugee Rights Policy Analyst, Citizens for Public Justice
Mike Hogeterp, Director, Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue

cc.

Hon. Peter Kent P.C., M.P.
Jenny Kwan M.P.

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