News & Events

Hitting the 1,000 Cap

By the Refugee 613 Team

Canadian sponsors and Syrian newcomers. Photo thanks to the Mennonite Central Committee, one of Canada’s most prolific private sponsors of refugees

Have you ever been asked “How can I sponsor my family to join me in Canada?”

At Refugee 613, we are asked this question almost daily, as are our partners in settlement, sponsorship and immigration law. In every case, the loved ones they want to sponsor are living in unsafe, unstable places. The stress and worry is etched on their faces, and makes it impossible for them to feel settled here in Canada.

What makes it even more heartbreaking is that our answer always begins with “It’s complicated” — and now, it’s even more complicated for refugees from Syria and Iraq.

That’s because the federal government announced on Jan. 25 that it will not accept any more applications this year from Groups of 5 (G5s to sponsor Syrians and Iraqis who do not have valid proof of refugee status. The 1,000 person cap they put in place just before Christmas has already been reached.

What does that mean, exactly?

It means if you were hoping to submit a Group of 5 (G5) application to sponsor refugees who are Syrian or Iraqi nationals this year and you have not yet submitted your application, you shouldn’t until you have done more research. It will not be accepted unless the person you want to sponsor has acquired documentation from the UNHCR or a state formally recognizing him or her as a refugee. These documents are currently only being issued to a very limited number of refugees in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, the countries to which most Syrian and Iraqi refugees have fled. The government’s cap therefore applies to the majority of refugees from Syria and Iraq, which is a heavy blow to many — including the more than 50,000 people resettled here as part of the federal government’s Syrian Resettlement Project, and the tens of thousands of Canadians hoping to submit a sponsorship application this year.

Why is there a cap in the first place? 

For many years the government of Canada did not limit G5 applications for sponsorship, but it also did not dedicate enough resources to process the volume of applications submitted. Over time, an immense backlog of private sponsorship applications developed, estimated to now stand at more than 45,000 individuals from all over the world, including Eritrea, Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In an effort to reduce the number of new applications while trying to clear the backlog, in 2012 the federal government introduced the status document requirement for all refugees. In response to public demand, an exception was made for Syrians and Iraqis, starting in September 2015 and renewed in September, 2016. At the same time, other refugee groups were still required to have the status documents in order to be sponsored by G5s. Some were waiting long before the documentation exemption was created for Syrians and Iraqis, and they are still waiting.

Then, last December 19, the government announced the exemption for Syrians and Iraqis would apply to only 1,000 individuals in 2017.

The announcement this week indicates that it took only a few weeks to reach the 1,000 mark.

It also underscores that there is still a huge eagerness in Canada to sponsor refugees. Canadians believe in sponsorship as a powerful tool not just for resettling vulnerable people, but for building vibrant communities.

Anyone working with refugees knows this — we regularly meet sponsors who marvel at the new relationships they have built with old neighbours, at the bond they have developed with the newcomers they are supporting. They also speak of the thousands of newly arrived refugees whose lives in Canada are stalled by their fears for those left behind.

So what can you do?
Refugee 613 has consulted our partners in sponsorship to compile the following advice. Please keep in mind that because the sponsorship system is complicated and multifaceted, we may receive corrections or updates that will change this advice. If that happens, we will update this post and share it on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

1. Check to see if the refugees you want to sponsor have the Refugee Status Determination document. It’s important to note that a registration document from the UNHCR is not a status document, and that receiving a stipend from UNHCR is not proof that someone has been recognized as a refugee. When a refugee registers with the UNHCR or a foreign state, they are registered as an asylum seeker whose claim for refugee protection must still be assessed before being formally recognized as a refugee and issued status documentation. The type of document issued can vary from country to country. In some cases, these documents are issued by the host country, in others by the UNHCR. The majority of Syrians living in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey do not have the required documentation, because those countries have rarely issued them to Syrians.

If you intend to sponsor refugees who are not Syrian or Iraqi, you should still check whether they have the necessary documents. Some refugee populations are more likely to have them than others. If you are not sure if you have the proper documentation, you can contact the uOttawa Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (SSP) or the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program to double check.

2. Consult the experts. The SSP lawyers provide free assistance to Canadians in completing sponsorship applications. If you are already working with an SSP lawyer on your application, you may have already heard from him or her. If not, reach out and ask if your group has been affected by this cap. Or you can send one member of your group to one of the SSP legal clinics to get advice — contact the SSP to find out when their next clinic is happening, or watch for the Refugee 613 newsletter for private sponsors (if you are not on our mailing list, please sign up here to receive regular updates about events, workshops and opportunities for private sponsors and the refugees they are supporting).

3. Talk to a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). A SAH may be able to help you submit your application, because refugees sponsored by SAHs do not require status documents. However, this too is a limited route, because SAHs face other restrictions in the number of individuals they can apply to sponsor each year. The government has capped the number of refugees that SAHs can apply to sponsor at 7,500 for 2017. These spaces will be divided among SAHs across Canada, and many spaces are already earmarked for specific cases, so the availability of spaces with SAHs is extremely limited. If a SAH cannot help you in 2017, ask if they have waitlists for future years.

You can find a list of SAHs in Ottawa on the Refugee 613 Sponsorship page, and SAHs elsewhere in Canada on the government’s website. Please keep in mind that many SAHs are faith groups and other community organizations whose operations depend on volunteers, making it hard for them to answer inquiries and meet the needs of large numbers of potential sponsors.

4. Continue to compile your G5 or CS application. Refugee processing systems can change unexpectedly. While we have no information suggesting this will happen, it is possible a sudden change in policy, in Canada or abroad, could open up new, time-sensitive avenues for sponsorship. If that happens, you will want to have your application ready to submit as soon as possible.

5. Educate and engage. Call your local MP and let him or her know what you think of the caps on refugee sponsorship, both for G5s and SAHs. Do more reading to know the system better, starting with the links below. Donate to refugee advocacy organizations such as the Canadian Council for Refugees. Share this post on social media and raise your voice whenever you can.

Canadian Council for Refugees: http://ccrweb.ca/en/private-sponsorship-refugees-2017 and http://ccrweb.ca/en/psr-toolkit/home
Refugee Sponsorship Training Program: http://www.rstp.ca/en/
Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association: http://www.sahassociation.com/

Write to your Member of Parliament: http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/ParlInfo/Compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

If you have questions, comments or clarifications for us, please send an email to info@refugee613.ca

FAQ on the end of IRCC’s Temporary Public Policy to facilitate the sponsorship of Syrian and Iraqi refugees by Groups of Five and Community Sponsors 

The government of Canada’s Temporary Public Policy to facilitate the sponsorship of Syrian and Iraqi refugees by Groups of Five and Community Sponsors has now ended. The policy applied to Syrian and Iraqi refugees who do not possess valid proof of refugee status from the UNHCR or another state. If you are seeking to sponsor a Syrian or Iraqi refugee who does not possess refugee status documentation, Group of Five and Community Sponsorship is no longer a viable avenue for you. To find out more, please see the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program’s FAQ on the policy change.

Windsor Faculty Responds to Refugee Crisis : Interview with Anneke Smit

“It’s an ongoing engagement,” says Anneke Smit of Windsor Law’s efforts regarding the ongoing Syrian (and global) refugee crisis. Dr. Smit, Associate Professor and expert in refugee and immigration law, has been spearheading the Faculty’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

One of the Law Faculty’s primary efforts has been the sponsorship of a Syrian family. Planning began in late Autumn 2015 to assist a family in relocating to Windsor; a campus-wide fundraising campaign was subsequently launched at the end of January 2016, and the initial monetary goal was met by April. A group of 11 faculty, staff and their partners will form the requisite “Group of 5” sponsors, while members of the Windsor Law community, including alumni and student groups, have made financial contributions.

Though the sponsored family has yet to arrive, relationships have been established with extended family members already in Windsor, and fundraising is ongoing to assist with additional expenses such as the family’s airfare to Canada.

At the same time, Smit, Professor Gemma Smyth, and law students have established a Windsor chapter of the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, a national organization with 11 chapters across the country. The SSP is a response to the great number of private sponsorship groups who find they need help with the complicated application process, and the lawyers who want to use their legal skills to contribute to solutions to the refugee crisis. “The idea was to train lawyers to be able to work with these groups in a pro bono capacity,” says Smit. So far 1300 lawyers and law students have been trained across the country, including about 15 lawyers and 35 law students in Windsor. The SSP is still in need of volunteers, and Smit encourages lawyers, whether or not they have a background in refugee or immigration law, to consider donating some time.

The Windsor SSP is starting to see some family reunification cases – situations where members of the area’s Syrian and Iraqi communities want to form Groups of 5 to bring over family members who are refugees without a durable solution to their displacement. With this in mind, Smit says that the emphasis of the Windsor SSP has developed to include more public legal outreach, with public information sessions held in Arabic and English in the fall of 2016. “I see that as being a big part of our raison d’être,” says Smit. “We can share some of our expertise on private sponsorship with these communities. So when they do get to the point where they can bring their family members over, they know what to do.” The Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County (MCC) has been a key community partner for all of the Windsor SSP’s public information activities. As the only chapter in southwest Ontario, the Windsor SSP has also recently expanded to assist sponsor groups in Hamilton and London. As part of the Faculty’s increased emphasis on experiential learning, student involvement is also a key aspect of the Windsor SSP: law students work with the organization as part of Smit’s international refugee law course. “In addition to running public sessions, students are matched with lawyers and sponsor groups, and find themselves getting hands-on experience in grassroots, public interest legal work,” says Smit. “As a country we need to be building capacity to support private refugee sponsorship, a successful model which the federal government is now seeking to export to other countries. I think as law schools one of our roles is to help develop that expertise for the future.”

In related news, there will be a dedicated place for a Windsor Law social justice fellow at the UNHCR protection office in Toronto for a second year, and the law school has created a refugee student entrance scholarship. For more information on the Windsor Refugee SSP, or to donate to the Windsor Law Group of 5 Sponsorship, please contact Anneke Smit at asmit@uwindsor.ca.

Click here to read more stories from Windsor Law’s Access Winter 2017.

Government of Canada Extends Temporary Public Policy for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

The  Government of Canada has extended its temporary public policy exempting Syrian and Iraqi refugees from having to show proof of refugee status in order to be privately sponsored by a Group of Five (G5) or Community Sponsor. The extended policy will remain in force until September 2017.

If you are a G5 or Community Sponsor Group sponsoring Syrian or Iraqi refugees, this means that the sponsorship application can go through without having to provide refugee status recognition documents from the UNHCR or another state.

If you are sponsoring refugees from countries other than Syria or Iraq, the requirement of having to show valid proof of refugee status recognition remains in place.

Further questions and requests for application support can be directed to refugeessp@uottawa.ca.

Music and Beyond and the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program to Fundraise Together and Welcome Newly Arrived Refugees

hebei-acrobatic-troupe-941x624

OTTAWA – One of the world’s most innovative cultural festivals, Music and Beyond and the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (“SSP”) are teaming up to raise funds and welcome newly arrived refugees to Ottawa. Music and Beyond is hosting the incredible Hebei Acrobatic Troupe for 15 performances this July. Bring your families to the shows from July 7-July 17, 2016 to welcome newly arrived refugees and raise funds in support of refugee sponsorship.

“What better way to welcome newcomers to our community then to share in one of Canada’s most innovative music festivals”, says Music and Beyond’s President Christopher Spiteri. “Our winters are long and this city’s incredible music schedule and vibrant arts scene keeps our communities bright. As an active lawyer and as an immigrant myself, we are honored to welcome refugees to our community while celebrating the important work of the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program”.

The Refugee Sponsorship Support Program’s mission is to help Canadians help more refugees come to Canada faster. The SSP is a volunteer-based organization that gives free legal advice to people wanting to sponsor refugees. It now has 1,300 lawyers and law students helping Canadians nationwide for free.

Music and Beyond is excited to support the SSP’s mission and introduce Ottawa’s newcomers to this City’s incredible cultural scene. Twenty percent (20%) of every ticket purchased using the RSSP promo code REFUGEE will go to the SSP, resulting in more refugees coming to Canada faster.

Ticket Options & Donation Amounts

Family pricing for these spectacular circus events is incredibly affordable.
• VIP Seating – $75 ($45 for passholders) – ($15 dollar donation to SSP)
• Reserved Section – $50 ($20 for passholders) – ($10 dollar donation to SSP)
• Adults – $30 (included with the festival pass) – ($6 dollar donation to SSP)
• Students – $20 (included with the festival pass) – ($4 dollar donation to SSP)
• Youth (ages 3 – 15) – $10 (included with the festival pass) – ($2 dollar donation to SSP)

For a full schedule of all of the performances at Music and Beyond, see check the website at musicandbeyond.ca/events.

All tickets purchased either on the phone at 613-241-0777 or online @ www.musicandbeyond.ca/hebei using promo code REFUGEE will donate 20% to the SSP.

Refugee newcomers interested in receiving free tickets are asked to e-mail mshik076@uottawa.ca by Friday, June 30th, 2016 at 4PM and we will make best efforts to arrange this.

Further information:
Julian Armour
Artistic and Executive Director, Music and Beyond
613-241-0777, ext 500
julian.armour@sympatico.ca
musicandbeyond.ca