Muslim Society receives official status to help sponsor refugees

The society received its official sponsorship agreement holder certificate in 2016, which allows it to work directly with the federal immigration office to sponsor refugees.

The society can now act as a go-between among the federal government, refugees and community groups

Najam Chishti is the president of the Muslim Society of P.E.I. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

The Muslim Society of Prince Edward Island hopes to bring more refugees to the Island after being named an official sponsorship agreement holder by the federal government.

The society went through a 20-month process to get its official SAH certificate from the federal government. The designation became official in September 2016, said Najam Chishti, president of the society.

"They need a non-profit charitable organization and a good track record of financial support," he said.

The designation allows the society to work directly with the federal immigration office. As an SAH the society can sponsor refugees themselves or work with other groups to sponsor refugees.

The society received permission to bring six refugees to the province in 2016. The society was able to submit five applications in the handful of months after being named an SAH. 

 "We are still waiting for the confirmation from the Winnipeg office to get the file numbers," added Chishti.  

Cumbersome process

Until last fall, the Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown was the only sponsorship agreement holder on the Island.

The Muslim Society had originally worked with the diocese in its efforts to help refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq.

When the diocese found the work was becoming too much to handle, it suggested the society apply for its own certificate, said Chishti.

Since receiving it, they are now connected to the larger council of SAH members across Canada, which helps with the cumbersome application process for refugees, he said.

The files have to be filled out meticulously and any mistake can lead to several more weeks or months of waiting, he said.

"And if even one information missed, the file was sent back," he said.

Waiting for new quota

The society is now waiting for its 2017 quota for refugee applications and continues to fundraise to help them start living on the Island.

Chishti said they have at least 10 applicants asking for sponsorship. The groups sponsoring refugees need to prove they have $29,000 to look after a family of four for one year after they arrive.

Since 2015, about 200 Syrian and Iraqi refugees have come to the Island, along with other immigrants from countries all over the world.

Chishti said the economy on the Island is doing well because of the newcomers.

"They are buying houses, they are buying cars," he said. "It is helping, as long as they can have a job over here."

With files from Mitch Cormier