Refugee sponsors frustrated by delays hold 'emergency meeting'

Private sponsorship groups hoping to welcome Syrian refugee families to Canada have called the delay in arrivals "cruel" and have asked the government to reverse processing cuts.

'We got all ready — and nothing,' sponsor says as rented townhouse sits empty

Refugee sponsor paying rent on empty house waiting for family's arrival

7 years ago
Duration 1:06
Refugee sponsor paying rent on empty house waiting for family's arrival

While Minister of Immigration John McCallum promoted Canada's refugee resettlement efforts abroad on Wednesday, private sponsorship groups called the delay in refugee arrivals "cruel".

Speaking to a UN refugee agency conference in Geneva, McCallum said Canada's program has worked so well, one of his "biggest challenges" as immigration minister is to find enough refugees to satisfy all the Canadians who want to bring refugees to Canada. 

Those Canadians are starting to voice their disappointment. 

The government slowed down processing of Syrian refugees after it reached its target of 25,000 Syrians at the end of February. Many private sponsorship groups are being told their refugees may not arrive for several months, and some will need to wait until 2017 for their arrival.

Raising expectations 'cruel'

More than 100 groups in Toronto alone have been left waiting for the refugee family they were sponsoring to arrive, according to Lifeline Syria.

Speaking to CBC News Network's Power & Politics, former Toronto mayor John Sewell, who is part of a group sponsoring a Syrian refugee family, said, "This is cruel… Both raising the expectations of refugees and raising the expectations of Canadians who were there to help them. All that good will is quickly being turned quite bitter."

Sewell has called an "emergency meeting" in Toronto on Wednesday to discuss shifts in government processing policies.

Rev. Roxanne Buckle says based on the reports of speedy arrivals in the winter, her Ottawa-based group rushed to find housing for the family they are sponsoring.

'We got all ready — and nothing'

"It was like a firehose — they were coming fast and furious — we got a house rented for them. We got all ready — and nothing."

Buckle's group is paying $1,000 rent a month for a townhouse that is currently standing empty. They hope to sublet the house until the family they are sponsoring arrives.

Refugee sponsors frustrated by delays

7 years ago
Duration 8:57
John Sewell, former mayor of Toronto, and Brian Dyck, chair of the Sponsorship Agreement Holder Council discuss the delay in refugee processing now that the government has reached its 25,000 refugee resettlement target

She says her greater concern is for the refugee family, who based on the accelerated processing of other refugees decided to sell all their belongings and give up their place in a refugee camp in anticipation of travelling to Canada quickly.

Now the husband and wife are living apart in temporary accommodation in Jordan.

Brian Dyck, the chair of the council that represents all the Sponsorship Agreement Holders who privately sponsor refugees, says some families were likely stalled due to a complication with their application.

"If there was something that was a little off … if there was a medical situation, if something didn't look quite right on the security checks then (the government) would take them off this very fast conveyor belt and put them aside to deal with later," he told Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton.

"And now it's later and they're trying to work at that now, but it's taking time."

'Back to Stephen Harper days'

John Sewell takes issue with the delays, and wants to see a situation in which the government would make sure Canadian groups hoping to sponsor a family would be able to do so within months.

"The government basically just said we're going to shut down those processing centres that we've got in Turkey and Lebanon and Jordan and slow things up in the Winnipeg processing centre, so it's going to take a while folks. We're back to the Stephen Harper days basically," Sewell said.

He would also like to see private sponsorship groups be allowed to help care for government-assisted refugees. Refugees entirely funded by the government typically get less support that those who have a group to settle them in Canada.

Canada's immigration minister was at the UN summit in Geneva and unavailable for comment on Wednesday. But in a tweet posted on Monday, he thanked the resettlement community for its feedback.

"I have asked my department to review suitable options," McCallum wrote. 

You can watch the full Power & Politics interview in the player above.