The Current

Frustrated sponsorship groups call on government for more resources to settle refugees

As Canada announces an increase in aid for the resettlement of Syrian refugees, millions in charitable donations from Canadian sponsorship groups remains frozen — leaving families stuck in refugee camps and caught in the system.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, 16-month-old Madeleine Jamkossian and her father Kevork Jamkossian, during their arrival in Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is lauded at the United Nations for Canada's work to resettle 31,000 Syrian refugees in the past year, private sponsor groups say the families they've sponsored continue to live in limbo outside of Canada.

John Wright, co-chair of the St. Alban's refugee sponsorship team, says he doesn't know why the refugee family that his group spent thousands of dollars to settle, have not been able to get to Canada yet.

Wright was expecting the family to arrive before the end of February of this year but tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti they are still in a camp in Lebanon.

"There was no word, they simply didn't show up. It was only a couple of months later... we were told that they'd been delayed," says Wright.

In anticipation of the refugee family arriving, Wright said the group used funds from fundraising to pay for a rental.

"Luckily after only two months of paying rent, we did manage to find another group who took over the lease and the landlord was very accommodating that way."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau high fives children of a Syrian refugee family during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, July 1, 2016. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Anneke Smit with Canada4Refugees tells Tremonti that there are thousands of private sponsor groups that can relate to Wright's frustration and points to a slow bureaucracy.

"There seems to be a major bottleneck as well with the International Organization for Migration who actually processes the travel or takes care of the travel of those refugees to Canada," says Smit.

Smit recognizes that the government and Canadian citizens have taken on a big responsibility but says the job is not done.

"It seems that much of this could be solved by simply ramping up the resources which had been allocated months ago," says Smit.

Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum tells Tremonti that he regrets the position sponsor groups are finding themselves in,"but I would say that these problems ... reflect the generosity of Canadians."

McCallum says 13 countries are interested in adopting Canada's private sponsorship model with the help of the UNHCR, despite the slowdowns and frustrations.

"It's still a terrific model in which the world has expressed a lot of interest. We want to export it to the world."

McCallum told Tremonti that he and his government continue to stand by his promise to private sponsors still waiting for their families to arrive.

"I've made the commitment that all those who applied by March 31st would have their refugees by the end of this year or early next year."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry, Kristin Nelson and Julian Uzielli.