Sponsorship groups miffed after refugee family falls through
ROBERT BURCHER/SPECIAL TO POSTMEDIA NETWORK Lunch of dolmatis is prepared at Kimbercote Farm by the Syrian ladies and Tara Bailey in Collingwood. Collingwood’s Syrian Refugee Group welcomed their first of two sponsored families in June, but are still waiting for news on the second.
Bette McCracken calls herself "administratively frustrated."
The Barrie woman is one of more than a dozen people who joined the Grace Syrian Refugee Group to bring a refugee family to Barrie last year.
But after choosing a family of seven to sponsor, renting and furnishing a home in Barrie - and maintaining the lawn and garden all summer - the group has recently been told their initial family is no longer able to immigrate and they'll be given the option of choosing another family.
"We're perfectly willing to welcome another family," McCracken said. "But all that's possessed me for the last year was, does (the first family) know we were waiting for them?
"It's been a year of waiting. It's eating up our funds and that's money we would rather have given to a family."
McCracken and her group don't know why the original Syrian family can't come, but they have been told they're one of 140 Canadian refugee groups who now must reapply, wait to be offered a new family, and then begin the long four-to-10-week waiting period again.
At a cost of about $1,600 per month on rent, heat and gas, the group has spent about $12,800 and now has the tough decision of continuing to rent an empty furnished home, or hope to find one when the next Syrian family is given the green light to immigrate.
Last summer, when Canadians saw the body of young Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach after his family attempted to flee Syria, people rushed to form groups to help bring families to Canada.
Many say the fall federal election was won on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's campaign promise to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada by year's end.
Extra staff was hired and although it took until March before 25,000 Syrians arrived, groups expected news of their spoken-for families daily.
But the government let go the extra immigration employees and the rush turned to a trickle by mid-summer.
Thom Vincent, with Collingwood's Syrian Refugee Group, said they were ecstatic when they welcomed their first of two families in June.
"The family is doing well, considering none of them spoke English when they arrived," Vincent said. "They had a baby one month after they arrived, so they have a new Canadian son."
So while the Collingwood group is diligently working with one new immigrant family, Vincent said it's been a lesson in frustration waiting for news about the second family.
"It's absolutely pathetic," he said of the Barrie group's situation.
"I think they should take their gloves off and make this a national incident. When you multiply that across the country, look at the amount of money all Canadians have lost here."
With 140 groups on the Canadian Immigration waiting list for a second family, if groups rented for a March 1 move-in date as the Barrie group did, people who donated to the cause are out $1.68 million.
Vincent said groups should begin petitioning the federal government to pay back groups that lost money on the government's mismanaging of the Syrian immigration program.
"If you're going to make a commitment - and they did - than stand by your commitment," he said.
But Johanne Nadeau with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said there won't be any funding offered to families who paid out rent on good faith.
"The government will not be compensating sponsors for expenses they may have incurred," Nadeau said.
She said many Syrian refugee families were "made available for sponsorship in advance of when case information is normally shared, with the understanding that there may be delays or refused cases."
She said the government has begun the process of offering replacement Syrian families to blended-sponsorship groups - like Grace's - but priority is being given to groups whose families were refused or withdrawn. The waiting groups will be given the next group who are currently awaiting finalized medical and background checks, that are "travel-ready".
"Should the original case (family) eventually be accepted once all checks have been successfully completed, the family will be resettled to Canada as government-assisted refugees," she said.
As former mayor of Toronto from 1978 to 1980, John Sewell helped create Operation Lifeline to bring in Vietnamese refugees in 1979, and joined the Rosedale United Church to bring in a Syrian family.
Sewell said some Canadian sponsorship groups gave up their rental properties when the government began dragging its feet in the spring.
His point - that the feds initially focused on bringing in government-assisted refugees, instead of the privately-sponsored families - is problematic.
"They're staying in hotels, and then when they get housing, it's very expensive so they have to use food banks. This would never have happened with privately-sponsored families," he said.