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Quiet changes to Syrian private sponsorship program create confusion

‘It’s as though the government has just said, oh well, there’s the promise, it’s all over’


 
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, greets new Syrian refugees Georgina Zires, centre, 16 month-old Madeleine Jamkossian, second right, and her father Kevork Jamkossian at Pearson International airport in Toronto on Friday, December 11, 2015. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, greets new Syrian refugees Georgina Zires, centre, 16 month-old Madeleine Jamkossian, second right, and her father Kevork Jamkossian at Pearson International airport in Toronto on Friday, December 11, 2015. (Nathan Denette/CP)

OTTAWA – Hundreds of Canadians who’ve come together to sponsor Syrian refugees are being told it could be next year before their new charges arrive, after a series of changes to the Liberals’ resettlement program.

The original goal of bringing in 25,000 refugees has been met, but the next step is unclear.

Caps on applications this year, a decrease in staff handling those and the return of a controversial travel-loan program are all prompting questions about what is going on with a program that once was priority one for the Liberal government.

“I think everybody assumed that the government was really interested in doing something serious about Syrian refugees and the 25,000 was just the start of it,” said former Toronto mayor John Sewell, who is part of a network of private sponsors which plans to hold an emergency meeting next week on the situation.

“It’s as though the government has just said, oh well, there’s the promise, it’s all over.”

Related: Saving Family no. 417

The changes essentially reverse much of what the previous Conservative government and then the Liberals did to respond to a surge in demand last fall for Canada to bring in more Syrians.

Staffing increases in the central processing office in Winnipeg and at missions overseas was the first step taken by the Tories and increased further when the Liberals took office, but they have now been cut back.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pressed on the issue Thursday but wouldn’t directly address the cuts.

“We continue to be engaged with the issue of Syrian refugees, making it a priority to continue to show that Canada is a strong and welcoming country,” he said.

In the Toronto area alone, upwards of 600 groups have spent months raising money, finding apartments and gathering supplies.

Some are being told it will be more than eight months before the family they are sponsoring arrives, while others hear that if they’ve not yet been matched with a family it’s unlikely they’ll see anyone before 2017.

“There is so much conflicting information floating around,” said Allison Murray, who has been working with a group of Toronto residents since the fall to put together the funds to sponsor a family.

“Our group is trying to be patient.”

It’s never been clear exactly how many privately sponsored Syrians would be accepted. There had been no caps on applications under the Conservatives or in the early part of the Liberal program.

As of March 14, there were 6,641 private cases in the inventory. Groups have been notified a cap will be placed on the number of applications accepted — as has been the custom for other refugee populations in recent years — but aren’t sure yet what it is.

Immigration Minister John McCallum said he is aware the enthusiasm to support Syrians won’t last forever “We want to create the conditions where Canadians are able and as quickly as possible to sponsor those refugees,” he said.

Arrivals of refugees have slowed considerably since the government stopped running its own flights.

Between Feb. 27 and March 8, 600 new government-assisted refugees and 433 privately sponsored arrived. In the 12 days after, only nine government-assisted refugees and 16 privately sponsored arrived. Only one person who is part of a program that blends the two streams arrived in that time.

While the government is still covering the flight costs for government-assisted refugees, they’ve stopped doing so for privately sponsored ones who’ve yet to be interviewed. They will now either be forced to take out a government loan or have their sponsors pay the fare.

The loan program was slammed in a government evaluation for placing an unfair burden on new arrivals. McCallum had promised it was under review.


 

Quiet changes to Syrian private sponsorship program create confusion

  1. Trudeau milked the PR boost. There is nothing further to be gained. The Trudeau government needed a bunch of good PR for his world selfie tour, and is now moving on.

    Trudeau is following the Obama playbook. Soak an issue for its PR potential, and then move on, and don’t worry if you have actually achieved anything long term.

  2. “The changes essentially reverse much of what the previous Conservative government and then the Liberals did to respond to a surge in demand last fall for Canada to bring in more Syrians.” The previous conservative government put the whole process on hold after achieving a grand total of 980 … it’s disingenuous to conflate their effort with the what the current government has done. The previous government had no interest in sponsoring refugees and certainly didn’t have any plan for or do any airlifts. The liberals managed to bring in more than 10 times as many Syrian refugees in 1/5th the time as the conservatives; this was obviously a stretch goal that absorbed extraordinary commitments of resources and manpower, often to the detriment of other immigration processes and not likely sustainable; nevertheless, an achievement that the conservatives said was not possible.

    “Some are being told it will be more than eight months before the family they are sponsoring arrives” As we’ve seen, there are serious complications with host countries like Greece giving refugees permission to depart which is now likely even more difficult with the new policy of sending many back to Turkey which is even slower; all the same, 8 months is an improvement on the conservative’s 25 months. As we can recall, the conservatives were so embarrassed by the long delays of pending applications that they just flushed the queue. Then knowing they probably couldn’t pull the same thing twice they instead invented a new prioritization and a process that consisted of reviews by PMO operatives.

    With the recently announced increase in immigration targets, Canada’s immigration infrastructure will certainly be taxed. The latest plan calls for over 50,000 refugees and others admitted for humanitarian reasons. For those that can’t do the math, 50,000 is twice the first liberal promise and 5 times the conservatives last minute offer.

  3. Maybe trudeau got a lot of negative feed back about the great rush to bring so many refugees here, in such a short period…perhaps people were concerned about proper screening for so many in such a short period. If there was negative feed back, we will never hear about…or maybe it’s simply, mission accomplished, promised kept…next

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