Legal Aid Manitoba is experiencing a huge spike in applications, which a report out Thursday predicts could eventually lead to a staggering 11-year delay for refugees waiting for a hearing.
Without an increase in funding, by the year 2021, refugee claimants could be waiting more than a decade for their cases to be heard, the report obtained by the Canadian Press states.
Meanwhile, Legal Aid Manitoba is still waiting to find out how much funding it will get from the province this year.
In just over two months — from April 1 to June 11, 2017 — Legal Aid Manitoba processed 243 immigration cases. Last year, 308 cases were processed for the total fiscal year.
"That's a 79 per cent increase over the total number of cases processed last year," said Robin Dwarka, director of finance and labour management at Legal Aid Manitoba.
"We're processing applications as they come in," said Dwarka.
Legal Aid Manitoba gets about $4.8 million per year through a cost-sharing agreement between the province and Ottawa, which was extended after it expired at the end of March. But it's not yet known how much of that funding will go toward cases involving refugees.
A Winnipeg immigration lawyer says government needs to act quickly.
"An 11-year wait is completely unacceptable," said Alastair Clarke.
"The refugee claimants who are coming to Canada, many of them have already been waiting a significant time while they've been in the United States," he said.
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A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said Legal Aid gets full funding for cases involving refugees and immigrants, while it gets partial funding for all other legal services.
"Almost all of our refugee claimants are on Legal Aid certificates. We rely on the Manitoba government to approve those certificates," Clarke said.
"What I fear is that when the numbers go up that we don't have sufficient time or resources to deal with the cases sufficiently," Clarke said.
He said his office is "overwhelmed" and he continues to get calls from refugee claimants every couple of days.
Private sponsorship cases also delayed
"The big question is, what will they do to address this issue?" said Thomas Denton, executive director of administration and sponsorship with Hospitality House Refugee Ministry.
"Never mind the IRB [Immigration and Refugee Board] thing and the refugee claimants, all through the system there are interminable delays," Denton said.
Denton said there are huge waiting lists across the whole immigration system, including the private sponsoring of refugees in Canada.
He said the problem isn't the paperwork. He blamed the federal government, which he said puts a cap on the number of people each year who can be privately sponsored from overseas.
"The government has a levels plan they announce every year, and that is the number of people that are allowed to come into Canada in the ensuing year."
"Hire more resources!" said Karin Gordon, executive director for settlement at Hospitality House.
"The government could certainly direct financial resources and more staffing," she said.
Gordon said at one point last year, their settlement office had a waiting list of 30,000 refugees wanting to be privately sponsored.
"Every one of these Syrian refugees who came last year has left families behind and they're already coming into our office begging us to sponsor their relatives overseas," Gordon said.
"There's a desperate desire to bring people here and the government is not allowing it."