While a refugee family waits a world away, a group from Saskatoon is trapped between good intentions and bureaucracy.
Margi Corbett is a retired teacher and a member of refugee support group in the city.
“We’re just a group of friends and neighbours trying to help,” Corbett said.
The private sponsor group is known as P.O.R.C.H. – Preparing Our Refugee’s Canadian Home – and was established 14 months ago. It was then they connected with a family of five from Iraq, who have been stuck in Lebanon for years, and felt the need to help.
“This is very important – this is children’s lives we’re talking about,” she said.
The private sponsorship process got underway in November 2015. Corbett said that by March 2016 the process seemed to slow drastically. The family finally received approval last September.
“They’ve been told that they can come – but that it’s going to take (another) eight to ten months,” she said.
“Imagine – years and years and years, being told you’re accepted, but you’re not going yet? That’s very difficult for a young family.”
In the meantime, many in Corbett’s group were eager to help others in need and looked at sponsoring a Syrian refugee family through the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program. According to the federal government, people in the BVOR program are referred to Canadian visa offices abroad directly by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Refugees sponsored under this program are travel-ready and can expect to arrive in Canada quickly – within one-to-four months.
Corbett said that’s exactly how things unfolded for the Syrian family, who arrived in Saskatoon a couple months ago. The drastic timeline difference only fueled frustrations for the group, still waiting to help the Iraqi family.
“We have basements full of stuff and we have made the financial arrangements to support these people,” she said, adding it’s likely the children may already have outgrown some of the items.
Following advice from others, Corbett said the group hasn’t started renting a place for the family. She noted, however, other sponsors weren’t as lucky – paying for apartments while waiting for refugee families to arrive.
Private sponsors provide financial support and settlement assistance for the refugees they sponsor, usually for one year after arrival.
Last December, the Canadian government announced a cap of 1,000 new applicants for “group of five” private sponsors – individuals who come together to form a community sponsorship.
Nationwide lobbying effort underway
P.O.R.C.H. is now working with Canada4Refugees, based in Toronto, which is organizing a lobbying effort across Canada to help speed up the process for approved refugees.
“The idea is to get the city councils to put pressure on the federal government to speed it up by hopefully hiring more people – or whatever needs to be done,” she said.
“This seems like an awfully long time to wait for people who’ve been approved to come.”
An email sent by Canada4Refugees further explains the issue:
“Some groups welcomed their families in January and February of this year, but then unexpectedly the government cut off the flow of Syrian refugees at the beginning of March, and many sponsorship groups worried when a family might arrive for them. The government said families would be arriving in the next six months, or perhaps a year.”
The email goes on to say the chief problem was staffing in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – which had been pushed to the limits for work load. The staff members were released in March.
“After much pressure, the government restored some processing staff for a six-week period beginning in June. This meant that some sponsorship groups have seen their family arrive in the last six months, but many groups are still waiting,” the email states.
Groups from 60 Canadian cities are set to ask their municipal government to write letters to Ottawa within the month of January.
Saskatoon’s planning, development and community services committee heard of the letter Monday and forwarded it for consideration to city council.