Special Guest Blog Post by Policy Writer Renata Marshall
Despite the flaws in the ILP program that we at STAND have pointed out, the Government of Canada did opt to waive the travel costs for 25,000 Syrian refugees who arrived in the period from November 2015 – February 2016. Waiving these costs has meant that these refugees are not forced to put their money towards paying for immigration loans and can focus more on covering their living costs and integration into society.
Although this move is exemplary, it creates an unfair situation for those who have not had their costs waived. Both refugees from other conflict zones as well as those Syrian refugees who arrived earlier and later than the exemption period have to pay back their expenses through the ILP. The amounts are around $1,000 per plane ticket and several hundred dollars for health screenings. Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees has said this has caused confusion for private sponsors “who were putting in the sponsorship application thinking their sponsored refugees would have their travels paid for”.
Aris Babakian a former judge with the Citizenship Commission calls the suspension of only certain refugees’ costs arbitrary and unfair. Waiving the cost for only 25,000 Syrian refugees is not only unfair to Syrian refugees who arrived earlier or later; it also is unfair to those arriving from other regions. Refugees from Iraq, also fleeing from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS), may be discouraged from coming because they are not able to cover travel costs. This also creates a separate system for refugees fleeing other conflicts, like those from Sudan, Somalia or Eritrea.
As the government already provides so much money for international aid, $227.643 million in Syria alone, the government could afford to waive all refugees travel costs. This would also mean that the money refugees receive in assistance through the Resettlement Assistance Program would go towards paying for their basic needs rather than towards interest on immigration loans and settlement services. Waiving travel costs would also allow refugees to be able to use settlement services, like language classes, which the government currently pays for, instead of focusing their time and money towards paying immigration loans. The waiving of travel costs is something that needs to be extended to all individuals fleeing conflict or persecution.
To learn more about what the ILP is and how it currently works, click here.