Ban­ish Refugee loan re­pay­ment in favour of more LIP pro­gram sup­port

Asian Journal - - British Columbia -

Ray Hud­son

Sur­rey: Sur­rey is the top city for re­set­tling refugees, hav­ing taken about 28% of the Gov­ern­ment As­sisted Refugees (GARs) com­ing to BC since 2010. From 2010 to 2013, 28% set­tled in Sur­rey, 22% in Van­cou­ver and the rest set­tled through­out the Van­cou­ver re­gion. But within six months of ar­rival they have to start re­pay­ing gov­ern­ment trans­porta­tion loans. This is a se­ri­ous and un­nec­es­sary im­ped­i­ment to the ef­fec­tive set­tle­ment of many refugees at a time when they are most vul­ner­a­ble. How­ever, on the mu­nic­i­pal scene Sur­rey and Van­cou­ver are two cities test-driv­ing a so­lu­tion for more ef­fec­tive refugee re­set­tle­ment pro­grams. But first we look at the neg­a­tive im­pact of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment prac­tice of forc­ing refugees to be­gin re­pay­ment of re­lo­ca­tion loans, a prac­tice that all mu­nic­i­pal politi­cians across Canada want abol­ished. “We’re ask­ing the poor­est of the poor, refugees com­ing to this coun­try to start out with up to $10,000 or more debt for most fam­i­lies, with a re­quire­ment for them to be­gin pay­ing back that loan af­ter be­ing here only six months,” laments Sur­rey Coun­cil­lor, Judy Vil­leneuve. “Af­ter that there will be in­ter­est charged on the re­main­der of the loan. Canada, through the UN, has agreed to bring peo­ple here from war-torn coun­tries. We should be do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to get them set­tled. But what we see is the refugee hav­ing to use the gov­ern­ment pro­vided, first year’s set­tle­ment funds (which are in­tended to help with their rent, food and costs to­wards em­ploy­ment) to start pay­ing back these ‘Trans­porta- tion and Set­tle­ment’ loans” Vil­leneuve added that since many refugees have very neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences with gov­ern­ment, and are fear­ful of it, they are not go­ing to ex­plore how they can get these loans ex­tended or any­thing else. “Many of them have gone through tremen­dous trauma and suf­fer ma­jor phys­i­cal and men­tal health is­sues,” said Vil­leneuve, “and I can’t be­lieve that one of the wealth­i­est coun­tries in the world, would put this kind of bur­den on the refugees that we have agreed to take.” It is be­com­ing an elec­tion is­sue across the coun­try un­der­scored by the fact that the Union BC of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and all the coun­cils across Canada have unan­i­mously sup­ported the elim­i­na­tion of this pay­back re­quire­ment. De­spite this the gov­ern­ment has said they’re re­ally not go­ing to look at it at this time. Sub­se­quently, de­spite the oner­ous re­quire­ments around con­duct­ing pe­ti­tions the city has gath­ered al­most a thou­sand names on a pe­ti­tion from peo­ple in those com­mu­ni­ties. “I’m re­ally proud of the work that the So­cial Pol­icy Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee mem­bers have done,” said Vil­leneuve, “along with those other peo­ple who made the ef­fort to get these pe­ti­tions out, get the names and try to ed­u­cate the com­mu­nity on this is­sue. We’ve had no neg­a­tive com­ments back once peo­ple un­der­stand that these are the Gov­ern­ment As­sisted Refugees that are the poor­est of the poor refugees com­ing to this coun­try.” On The Pos­i­tive Side, The LIP Pro­grams The Lo­cal Immigration Part­ner­ship (LIP) is de­scribed on the web­site as “a con­sor­tium of gov­ern­ment, public and pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions, busi­ness, non-profit and com­mu­nity agen- cies work­ing to­gether to strengthen the in­te­gra­tion of new­com­ers and build a more in­clu­sive and wel­com­ing city.” Sur­rey and Van­cou­ver are the only two cities in BC test-driv­ing the pro­grams funded into March 2016 by Cit­i­zen­ship & Immigration Canada. “In Sur­rey we have al­most 30 or­ga­ni­za­tions in our LIP round­table,” said Vil­leneuve. “We’re just two years into the pro­gram but we’ve ap­plied for another three years to con­tinue the process and once we have a plan in place we’re go­ing to be able to try and im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions.” The Sur­rey LIP pro­gram is co-chaired by Judy Vil­leneuve and Anita Hu­ber­man, CEO of the Sur­rey Board of Trade, and has a num­ber of ini­tia­tives un­der­way, along with a part­ner­ship with Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity which is lead­ing a refugees set­tle­ment pri­or­ity re­search pro­ject for the Sur­rey LIP. “Lo­cal refugees have been trained as re­searchers for the pro­ject,” said the Coun­cil­lor, “and the re­search find­ings are go­ing to in­form the de­vel­op­ment of a strate­gic plan and so to­day we’ve ac­tu­ally done a map­ping of set­tle­ment ser­vices in Sur­rey, so we know what’s here to help with refugee set­tle­ment. There’s an immigration in­te­gra­tion re­search pro­ject which is ba­si­cally find­ing out how new­com­ers per­cep­tions of Sur­rey as a wel­com­ing and in­clu­sive com­mu­nity re­ally are, and a labour mar­ket re­search pro­ject we’re work­ing on right now to see how we can build some part­ner­ships in the busi­ness com­mu­nity to help em­ploy new Cana­di­ans.” The LIP pro­gram is de­signed to deal with gov­ern­ment and pri­vately spon­sored refugees. The pri­vate spon­sors of­ten don’t have the abil­ity to ac­tu­ally give the tools nec­es­sary for refugees to get their lives off the ground.

Con­tin­ued on page 21

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