Quebec private refugee sponsorship applications on hold until next summer

Quebec residents won't be able to be able to apply to sponsor a refugee until at least next summer, under a decision confirmed Thursday by the provincial government.

'What kind of a Christmas message is it to folks who want to sponsor a refugee?' advocate asks

Syrian refugees Jamil Haddad (left to right), Tony Batekh, George Louka and Edmon Artin are seen here attending French classes last year. The province confirmed Thursday it will extend the suspension of its private refugee sponsorship program. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Quebec residents won't be able to apply to sponsor a refugee until at least next summer, under a decision confirmed Thursday by the provincial government.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister David Heurtel said the province is extending its suspension of new applications until at least June 30, 2018. 

The program was originally suspended last January due to delays in processing the cases.

At the time, more than 10,000 applications had been accepted by the province and were awaiting approval from the federal government. Three-quarters of those applicants were Syrian refugees. 

The program has historically helped reunite families, and the delays can be painful for people waiting on both in and outside of Canada hoping to reunite, said Paul Clarke, executive director of Actions Réfugiés Montréal.

"People have been calling us and asking, 'When is it reopening?'" he said. "What kind of a Christmas message is it to these folks who want to sponsor a refugee?"

Clarke said the process for these people to come to Quebec can take up to five years, and this suspension on new files only adds to their struggles.

"You might say, 'Well, what's another six months if it's going to be years anyway, who cares?' Well there's pain and suffering for the refugee. And something we don't always think about is the pain and suffering for the family members who are here."