Progress and Concern on Refugee Rights Day

April 4 is Refugee Rights Day.

In 2014, CPJ released “Private Sponsorship and Public Policy,” a report that outlines the political barriers to church-connected refugee resettlement. The found that Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) were concerned about five major issues:

  • Long wait times and processing delays,
  • Cuts made to the Interim Federal Health Program,
  • A lack of government consultation,
  • A change made in the age of “dependent children,”
  • Limited allocations and caps put on applications.

Since the release of the report, improvements have been made in several areas. The Interim Federal Health Program has been fully restored to its pre-2012 levels, ensuring that all refugees have access to the health coverage they need. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum recently announced that the government will “work to restore the maximum age for dependants to 22 from 19.” The new government has also made efforts to communicate more effectively with SAHs.

After the surge of compassion towards those fleeing the crisis in Syria, SAHs are thrilled to have an outpouring of Canadians who are eager to support refugees through Canada’s private sponsorship program. SAHs are now faced with the rare but exciting challenge of managing this mass public mobilization.

On March 31, 2016, McCallum announced some exciting changes that directly respond to the concerns of private sponsorship groups and the SAH Council. These changes respond directly to CPJ’s concerns over restrictive caps and the government’s processing speed.

  1. Global caps on sponsorship applications have been boosted by 10,000 Syrian refugees to meet demand.

The number of available sponsorship opportunities in the 2016 Immigration Levels Plan was much lower than the amount of interest from private sponsors. Now, 10,000 applications for Syrian refugees (made between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31) will be excluded from the overall number of refugees allowed to arrive in Canada in 2016. 10,000 additional Syrian refugees will be able to come to Canada through private sponsorship.

  1. The government’s capacity to process applications for sponsorship (as well as applications from refugees) did not match the rate at which they have been pouring in. McCallum has now committed to expediting private sponsorship applications made before March 31.

Huge backlogs and long waiting times currently plague the application process. For a few months, the system was expedited to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, as promised by the Liberal government. But as soon as that target was hit, staff was cut back to regular capacity, and processing times for all refugees went back to normal. McCallum has committed to improving the speed and efficiency of the system for the future. Although the latest change will not bring in more refugees than the current 2016 target of 17,800, it will push through more sponsorship applications and deal with backlog. It’s a step in the right direction.

  1. A new concern is the loans incurred by incoming refugees.

Canada charges refugees for transportation and health screening. (This applies to some, but not all, refugees. Depending on when they arrive and what program they’re under, refugees may or may not be required to pay.) These loans also accrue interest. Many refugee sponsors are concerned that vulnerable newcomers who are immediately saddled with debt for coming to Canada will have a harder time making ends meet.

CPJ is thrilled to see the progress that has been made in political structures supporting private sponsorship. Canadians have done amazing work to bring in thousands of refugees, and the government is working to support their enthusiasm with efficient programs and generous caps.

Although continued challenges lie ahead, CPJ is hopeful that the government and private sponsorship community can work together to create an effective system for the safe and successful resettlement of refugees.

(Photo Credit: Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection)

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