Federal changes could make it impossible for private groups to sponsor refugees, say faith leaders

Really hard to know what the specific issues are from this op-ed:

Last year, footage of Afghans desperately clinging to departing planes following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan shocked the world. The images told a clear story: those holding onto the plane were so desperate to escape they would risk their lives. Since then, conflicts have escalated across the world, leading to the highest number of refugees in years, according to the UN High Commission on Refugees. The need to welcome refugees has never been greater.

On Vancouver Island, a wide variety of people have worked together to offer a haven to refugees and protect the persecuted. As faith leaders, we have watched worshippers, communities, and student groups come together to sponsor and welcome refugees to this part of the world.

The work of bringing a family to safety brings people together regardless of faith or race. The bonds that are created over the sponsorship process can last decades and are transformative for all involved. Those who come here as refugees begin to build a new life and are welcomed by a community invested in their success and happiness. It’s a win-win.

Organizations like the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia have been involved in privately sponsoring refugees from dozens of countries – including Ethiopia, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – through the federal government’s Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) program. The program allows for a certain number of refugees to be sponsored by organizations every year and places significant legal and financial liability on agreement holders, who must cover basic needs and support such as housing for a period of one year.

But upcoming changes to the program means that many groups may no longer be able to undertake this work. The federal government is implementing significant administrative requirements that will cost organizations tens of thousands of dollars, making sponsorship financially unfeasible.

For the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, the largest SAH on Vancouver Island, these new costs are too onerous to bear. The diocese looks forward to honouring its commitments over the next few years to those whose applications have already submitted, and will be welcoming another 290 people – about half of whom will be children – to Vancouver Island. However, the diocese cannot responsibly submit any further applications under the new requirements and will allow our agreement to expire when the term is up.

For the diocese, the decision was not an easy one to make, but it can no longer afford to continue this work. Apart from raising millions in sponsorship dollars, the diocese itself contributes more than $150,000 a year to cover the administrative burden of this work. The new requirements will increase that burden and are a step too far for an already-stretched organization.

Our communities love this work. It matters. But as the federal government continues to make announcements about welcoming refugees, the reality is that much of the work is downloaded onto community and faith groups like ours.

Despite the diocese’s impeccable track record of navigating the system, raising money to sponsor refugee families, and ensuring support for these families for their first year in Canada, they are being asked by the government to do even more, without any funding and minimal support.

The work of welcoming refugees to Canada, setting up apartments, registering kids for school and ESL classes, and helping people feel at home in a new country is work that volunteers can and will continue to do. But the administrative work required by the government, in the form of expensive financial audits and forms, is too much to ask of volunteers.

As people of faith, people who are committed to providing a haven to the persecuted, we will continue to do what we can. But the government should make it easier – not harder – for us to do this work. Imposing administrative burdens on volunteers that are too heavy to bear will mean fewer refugees making Canada their home, families will remain apart, and religious institutions like ours will struggle to stay involved in this work.

We each lead congregations of people looking to build a better world. For our worshippers, just like for so many Vancouver Islanders, part of that work is welcoming refugees. We will continue to find a way to do this work because we do it well. We just want the government to help – not to hinder.

Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee is the Anglican Bishop for the Diocese of British Columbia. Rabbi Harry Brechner leads Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria. Imam Zoheir Tahar is a leader with the Muslim Community of Vancouver Island

Source: Federal changes could make it impossible for private groups to sponsor refugees, say faith leaders

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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