The private sponsorship of refugees fleeing wartorn Syria is well ahead of government sponsorship at the moment, though the federal government promises to step up the numbers of refugees resettled. Photo by Michael Swan.

Churches ahead of government in resettling Syrian refugees

By 
  • December 4, 2015

The federal government has rewritten its timeline to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada this year and acknowledges that to resettle them here by the end of February is an enormous challenge.

“This is not just a federal government project,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum told The Catholic Register on a conference call. “It’s not just a governmental project. But it’s a national project that should involve all or many of the 35 million Canadians.”

Moving off the original deadline of Jan. 1 for 25,000 government-assisted refugees isn’t going to bother anyone in the refugee-serving community, said Jesuit Refugee Service Canada country director Norbert Piché.

“The important thing is to make sure that everything is done properly — not only that we get all the security checks done but that we make sure that everything is in place here to successfully welcome them,” said Piché. “If that takes a few months more, so be it.”

The government’s new schedule will see 10,000 refugees arrive before the end of the year. Most of those will be privately sponsored. By the end of February, another 15,000 refugees, mostly government sponsored, will arrive.

Mixing 10,000 privately sponsored refugees (mainly church-sponsored) into the 25,000-strong first wave doesn’t mean the government is offloading its commitment on the churches, said McCallum.

The government will still accept at least 25,000 government-sponsored refugees by the end of 2016. It just didn’t want to delay the thousands of privately sponsored refugees already in the pipe to make room for government-assisted refugees on the daily flights from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, said McCallum.

“We certainly don’t want them to wait until the government ones arrive. We want to put them in the mix,” said the minister. “It will be a mix of both private and government (sponsored) in the first wave. The people who would be the most upset if we delayed the private ones to make way for the government would be the churches who have sponsored them… Any shortfall of the government-sponsored refugees during the initial phase will be made up fully in subsequent months.”

The private-sponsorship process seems to be well ahead of government sponsorship. The Globe and Mail reports that of the 9,400 refugees that will travel to Canada before the new year only 311 are sponsored solely by the government.

As of Nov. 24 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship had 928 refugees in Lebanon who had passed security and health checks and had been issued permanent resident visas. But they can’t get on a plane until the government of Lebanon issues exit visas.

“We’re telling you the pluses and the minuses, the ups and downs along this path,” McCallum said, and promised a government web site would be up soon where Canadians could monitor progress in bringing refugees to Canada.

About 900 refugees will arrive daily in Toronto or Montreal and be dispersed from there to at least 36 cities across the country where permanent housing and sponsors are waiting. McCallum hopes to minimize use of temporary housing on military bases, at Cornwall’s Nav Canada Centre, hospitals and elsewhere.

“We have a lot of generous Canadians coming forward to support this with subsidized or even free rent,” said McCallum.

In Hamilton, the Catholic diocese’s Office for Refugees has seen a noticeable speed-up in processing since former Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced fast tracking on Sept. 21. The Liberal promises have added even more momentum, said director Erin Pease.

The Hamilton diocese office has applied to sponsor 21 Syrian families or individuals, out of a total 135 cases it has submitted in 2015.

Because there are more Iraqis in Hamilton asking the diocese for help sponsoring their family members, Hamilton will at least initially see more Iraqis than Syrians arrive.

Hamilton has seen 25 of its refugee cases actually arrive so far in 2015, but none of them Syrian. It is rare for a refugee to arrive in the same year that a case is submitted.

Though the government sponsorship program will concentrate on complete families, single mothers and gay and transgendered men to the exclusion of most unattached males, that doesn’t prevent private sponsors from bringing in single men, said Pease.

“The nature of their vulnerability will not necessarily coincide with the government’s priorities,” she said. “And that’s fine because they’re meeting the needs of our program.”

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