Refugees need more help from private groups: Kenney

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says private organizations like gay and lesbian groups need to reach out and do more to sponsor more refugees and bring them to Canada.

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said private organizations like gay and lesbian groups need to reach out and sponsor more refugees and bring them to Canada.

Speaking at a Catholic immigration centre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Kenney said life can be dangerous in Iran, especially for gays and lesbians, and urged organizations in Canada to help out.

"With respect to gay and lesbian refugees, I'm often approached saying: 'Look, we're aware of a case of someone in Turkey who had to flee Iran, they had a blog or something, can you help them?'

"And we do what we can on a limited basis but I'm saying perhaps it's time for those organizations to step up and do so in a more organized fashion," Kenney said.

Kenney spoke a day after the Senate passed a new refugee bill that will increase the number of refugees that Canada will accept by 4,500 next year, which includes 2,000 more privately sponsored refugees — those whose settlement in Canada are paid for by organizations, church groups or individuals.

Kenney said a lot of people are also fleeing persecution in Iraq.

"We need more sponsorship organizations to assist us in resettling these Iraqi refugees. We believe their circumstance is particularly perilous."

Arsham Parsi, the founder of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees in Toronto, said the need is so great, that not everyone can come into Canada through the government-sponsored refugee program.

"If we can have sponsors, where individual people support those cases, [it] would be really good because right now our organization's working with hundreds of refugees who are waiting for resettlement."

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, said people in the gay and lesbian community do sponsor refugees and her group helps them get settled.

But it isn't easy for her organization to start sponsoring refugees to come to Canada, she said.

"We don't have necessarily that built-in resource to be able to provide this service on an ongoing basis with any great capacity or means at this particular time," she said.

Kennedy said she's open to sitting down with the immigration minister to see how they can work together to help more people start a new life in Canada.

The Tory government recently came under fire by members of the gay and lesbian community after it was revealed they would not be funding the gay pride parade in Toronto. The government defended the move, saying it wanted to ensure funding for its tourism program was spent fairly throughout the regions.