Slow start for Surrey-led petition to eliminate refugee transportation loan

Photo via flickr.com/photos/sky_jokiel

Photo via flickr.com/photos/sky_jokiel

The City of Surrey is asking the community to sign a petition asking the federal government to get rid of a transportation loan for refugees – but signatures are proving hard to come by.

So far less than 200 people have signed the petition which began in November 2013.

Surrey’s social policy advisory committee began a petition in November 2013 asking the minister of citizenship and immigration to stop requiring government-assisted refugees (GARs) from having to pay back the interest bearing loan which funds cover their pre-entry medical exam and transportation costs to resettle in Canada.

Canada is the only country worldwide that issues interest bearing loans to government-assisted refugees.

The petition started by the social policy committee only has 124 signatures (when last counted).

I chatted to councilor Judy Villeneuve, who chairs the social policy advisory committee, and she told me the complex nature of the issue is making it harder than expected to obtain signatures.

“It’s difficult to get that groundwork done, everyone’s busy in their lives,…it really gets lost in the priorities and shuffles through people.

Villeneuve,who has been fighting the loan for years, said paying back the loan is an “immoral” barrier to put on these refugees.

“You’re looking at people coming out of war-torn camps that have sometimes lived there for 18 years. They’re coming to Canada with no assets, often with no skills living in an urban environment, and often with major language and psychological barriers.”

Villeneuve said these refugees often try to pay back on their loan – which can average between $10-15,000 a year – before even paying for food for their families. Or they use the other funding they receive for food and rent to pay back the loan.

Surrey is the top destination for GARs, largely due to rising housing costs elsewhere in the Lower Mainland. Surrey became home to 194 GARs in 2013 (32 per cent of all GARs in B.C.), according to an Immigration Services Society of BC report.

2013 BC government-assisted refugee statistics:

614 individuals arrived in B.C. from Jan.1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2013.

Top destinations by municipality:

Surrey: 194 individuals (32%)

Tri-Cities (primarily Coquitlam): 143 individuals (23%)

Burnab:y 81 individuals (13%)

Vancouver: 62 individuals (10%)

New Westminster: 20 individuals (3%)

2013 GAR Source regions:

Middle East –358 individuals (56%),

Africa – 224 individuals (35%),

Asia – 21 individuals (3%)

South America – 11 individuals (2%).

Source: ISS of BC GAR Bulletin

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