A displaced ethnic Kachin family is seen in early May at a temporary camp on the grounds of a Catholic church in Myitkyina, Myanmar. Myanmar's military still is persecuting ethnic Kachin, the predominant Christian group in a conflict-torn part of the country, as well as Rohingya Muslims, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said. CNS photo/Seng Mai, EPA

Canadian refugee plan falls short, advocates say

  • November 7, 2018

OTTAWA – The Canadian government needs to speed the processing for refugee claimants and raise the number of government-sponsored refugees, say advocates.

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) and the Canadian Council for Refugees both argue the level of Government Assisted Refugees (GAR) is too low, and should match that of the Privately Sponsored Refugee program. 

The GAR numbers are expected to be 9,300 in 2019 and 10,700 in both 2020 and 2021, according to the federal government’s new three-year immigration plan tabled Oct. 31 in the House of Commons.

The government will increase the cap on privately sponsored refugees that are helped by churches, charities and private citizens. Canada will bring in 18,000 privately-sponsored refugees this year and the number will grow to 19,000 next year and reach 20,000 in 2020.

“The private sponsorship program is a great program, with great outcomes,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen told journalists Nov. 1 during a conference call.  “We have created more spaces and we are also making a big effort to reduce the backlog and processing times in that program.

“There were over 50,00 privately sponsored refugees in the backlog when we took over government,” he said. “We brought it down to 21,000. We hope to eliminate it before the end of 2019 and work towards a processing time of less than 12 months.”

The government’s plan focuses on welcoming 330,800 new permanent residents in 2019; 341,000 in 2020 and 350,000 in 2021, in an effort to shore up Canada’s economic competitiveness and attract newcomers in what Hussen described as “the global race for talent.”  

These new levels will address both labour shortages and the challenges of Canada’s aging population, he said. Refugee numbers are not included in these figures.

“The government should realize that refugees can and do also fill skills gaps,” said Joe Gunn, executive director of CPJ. “As the government moves to increase the number of immigrants admitted to Canada year after year, it should likewise prioritize increasing the number of refugees that it admits.

“Refugee sponsoring groups and churches know we can do better.”

In 2017, 62 per cent of refugees settled in Canada were privately sponsored while 33 per cent were government assisted. Another five per cent came under the Blended Visa Office-Referred Refugee program that allows sponsorship groups and government to jointly-support resettling refugees.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, says having private sponsorships continue to be much higher than government sponsorships is “a mistake and a failure of the state.”

“The first responsibility for providing some solution for refugees should lie with the government,” she said. “What the government has allowed to happen, the bulk of the responsibility has now shifted to the private sponsors and we don’t think that it’s the right way.”

Dench pointed out that there is yet another backlog dealing with refugee claimants to Canada who make their claim in Canada: Those entering either at a port of entry, or after crossing the border outside of a regular crossing. These people are handled by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), as opposed to another section of the Immigration department that also deals with visas.

The government reported that in 2017 the total number of asylum claimants in Canada “more than doubled, from approximately 24,000 claims in 2016 to over 50,000 in 2017.”

Of this number, about 40 per cent were “irregular migrants who crossed between ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border,” the government report said.

The Canadian Council for Refugees urged the government to give the IRB more funding in 2017 but it did not do so until last March and the “backlog continues to grow,” Dench said.

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