OTTAWA (CCN) — The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has told the immigration minister that delays in refugee arrivals is hurting the private sponsorship program.
In an Oct. 6 letter to Immigration Minister John McCallum, CCCB president Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton said many sponsoring groups are still waiting for refugees to arrive, even though they submitted applications a long time ago.
“Canadians were called to action during a time when the Government of Canada was promising arrival timelines of less than two months,” he wrote on behalf of Catholics and sponsorship stakeholders across the country. This led to sponsoring groups signing leases and renting properties, as they expected arrival to be “imminent.”
The processing delays have meant “significant financial losses for sponsoring groups” and the longer they go on, the more they “undermine the prospect that sufficient resources will be in place once the sponsorship period actually begins, post-arrival,” Crosby said. “Needless to say, there has arisen a significant level of anxiety and concern within sponsoring groups, especially those with finite sponsorship resources at their disposal.”
A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said Minister McCallum will respond directly to Crosby’s letter. However, for the government “to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of February 2016, additional resources and special measures were temporarily put in place,” said Lindsay Wemp in an email. “This effort was an exceptional and time-limited situation which required extraordinary measures in order to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in roughly 100 days.”
She explained since this “blitz” period, sponsorship applications have continued to be processed and those applications submitted up to March 31, 2016, should be finalized by the end of this year or early in 2017.
“We know refugees and sponsors are disappointed that expedited processing could not continue for a longer period, but Canada’s ongoing response to the refugee crisis must be done in a sustainable way,” she said.
She explained the process to approve refugees takes time. “Some of these cases are currently awaiting security/criminality and/or medical checks,” she said, noting many cases are awaiting completion.
“We need to ensure that individuals are admissible to Canada before their cases can be finalized,” she said.
Crosby wrote the minister that the goal of receiving 25,000 Syrians “would not have been possible without the support of the Canadian public and the sponsorship community at large.”
He urged immediate steps to process pending cases as “quickly as possible.”
“Needless to say, delayed arrivals and the lack of clear and transparent communication about the status of pending cases, poses the risk of undermining the faith of Canadians in the government’s ability to follow through on its promises,” he said. “These realities also represent potential to undermine the government’s ability to meet future immigration levels plans, as interest and confidence in the sponsorship program will continue to dissolve and wane as poor outcomes continue to manifest.”
The positive momentum could be lost, he wrote.
Crosby also asked the minister to expedite all refugee applications, not only those from Syria.
“It is neither reasonable nor fair for an Afghan family in Pakistan to wait 75 months, or for an Eritrean refugee in Egypt to wait 55 months, to have their sponsorship applications processed to completion: this is both cruel and counterintuitive to the nature of a life-saving program,” he wrote.
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website, Canada has welcomed 32,427 Syrian refugees since last November. Of that number, private sponsors have received 12,053.
The government reports it is screening and processing another 21,900 refugees in all categories including government sponsorships, and another 3,259 refugees have been approved but have not yet travelled to Canada.
Of the refugees now being processed 4,473 are in Jordan, 9,364 are in Lebanon, 4,222 are in Turkey. There are 3,841 refugees in other locations being processed.