Banish Refugee loan repayment in favour of more LIP program support
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