Red Tape Hinders Sponsoring Refugees - New Canadian Media
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Red Tape Hinders Sponsoring Refugees

The current Syrian refugee crisis continues to ignite the compassion of the Canadian public. Citizens and local politicians alike are pledging their support to bring greater numbers of Syrian refugees to the country. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke to a crowd of hundreds at City Hall Tuesday night to discuss his plans to turn the city into a sanctuary for Syrian refugees. “Vancouver must continue to expand upon the steps we are taking to be a welcoming city, but it’s clear that the Government of Canada has not been meeting our international obligations in this continuing humanitarian crisis,” Robertson said

The current Syrian refugee crisis continues to ignite the compassion of the Canadian public. Citizens and local politicians alike are pledging their support to bring greater numbers of Syrian refugees to the country.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke to a crowd of hundreds at City Hall Tuesday night to discuss his plans to turn the city into a sanctuary for Syrian refugees.

“Vancouver must continue to expand upon the steps we are taking to be a welcoming city, but it’s clear that the Government of Canada has not been meeting our international obligations in this continuing humanitarian crisis,” Robertson said in a news release on Monday.

The statement also outlined Robertson’s plan to bring a motion before city council, calling on the federal government to take “immediate action” and to assist 20,000 refugees annually by 2020.

The fervour with which many Canadian politicians are confronting this issue mirrors that of many of their constituents.

Robertson is not alone in his criticism of the government’s current refugee policies.

Mayors in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa have all pledged their support for increased intervention in the current migrant crisis, with Toronto Mayor John Tory even opening his own doors to a refugee family from Syria.

Provinces are getting involved as well. The British Columbia government, for example, is allocating $1 million for a readiness fund to assist and support Syrian refugees settling in the province.

The fervour with which many Canadian politicians are confronting this issue mirrors that of many of their constituents.

In a poll released Tuesday by Mainstreet Research and Postmedia, almost half of Canadians responded that they want Canada to accept over 30,000 refugees from Syria – a number significantly higher than the Conservative government’s pledge to bring in an additional 10,000 refugees over the next four years if re-elected.

So far, Canada has accepted 2,374 Syrian refugees and has promised to accept 11,300 over three years.

In the same poll, 31 per cent of those surveyed said Canada can best intervene in the international crisis by bringing Syrian refugees to Canada, while 27 per cent believed humanitarian aid was the best route forward. Another 18 per cent felt military deployment in the conflict region was the best way to move forward.

Cutting through the red tape

Despite these huge numbers of support, matched in part by sweeping donations across the country to aid in Syrian resettlement, the country’s federal bureaucratic system may inhibit immediate action from taking place.

There are already 24,000 privately sponsored refugees who have been waiting for years to come to Canada. Tima Kurdi, the aunt of Alan Kurdi, said her own attempts to bring her brother overseas to Canada were prevented by complicated government policies.

The typical wait time for privately sponsored refugees is four to five years.

Naomi Alboim, who is on the steering committee of Lifeline Syria, estimates that even with the current influx of willing host families, it may take months before refugee families begin arriving in Canada.

That is “unless the government of Canada really starts to step up its game and starts processing applications and getting them on planes to come here,” she adds.

Alboim explains that the Toronto-based organization, which has an aim of recruiting, training and assisting sponsor groups to welcome and support 1,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years, has not yet brought any Syrians into the country.

“It’s really hard [for] sponsorship groups to have any incentive if it’s going to take so long.”

This could in part be because the process for sponsoring a refugee is incredibly time consuming.

Once a private organization – be it a community organization, church, charitable group, or a group of five or more permanent residents – has decided to sponsor a refugee, it must send an application form to be vetted by a government facility in Winnipeg.

This process often takes months, after which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees must screen the refugees again.

There are fears that this lengthy process may discourage would-be sponsors who are stepping forward in this heated political atmosphere.

“It’s really hard [for] sponsorship groups to have any incentive if it’s going to take so long,” Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, told the Globe and Mail.

This is especially troublesome considering that hosting a family comes with the steep price tag of approximately $30,000 per sponsor family per year, which after the first year, most refugees are expected to have found their footing in the host country.

What else can be done?

Many who cannot afford the high costs associated with sponsoring a family are searching for alternative ways to support Syrian refugees in this tumultuous time.

At the public forum inside Vancouver City Hall Tuesday night, speakers cautioned those in attendance about the complexities of refugee sponsorship, especially considering the associated costs.

“Canadians overall have shown this type of compassion and humanitarian response in the past.”

Numerous international charities are asking concerned citizens to donate either to local, established organizations and existing sponsorship agreement holders or directly to Syrian people living in refugee camps.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a donation to the UN refugee agency of $20 gets a family sleeping mats, while $550 gets a family a tent.

For Eyob Naizghi, an Eritrean refugee who came to Canada 35 years ago, these types of discussions regarding the role Canada can play are crucial if the country is going to make a real impact in the months ahead.

He told the Vancouver Sun, “It’s all about learning, it’s a starting point, because Canadians overall have shown this type of compassion and humanitarian response in the past.”

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