When government assisted refugees arrive in Canada next month, they’ll be the first in generations not to be saddled with the cost of getting to their new home.
“We thought it was fantastic. Everybody cheered,” says Ninu Kang with settlement group MOSAIC.
Usually, travel costs and a medical examination are paid for with a federal loan of up to $10,000, which refugees must start paying back within 30 days.
Kang says that cost is a massive burden to vulnerable refugees.
“Not every refugee that’s going to come in here is going to get a high paying job. Very likely, they’re going to be coming into entry level positions, dealing with a minimum wage. It’s absolutely burdensome, given affordable housing is not available, and the cost of living is up there.”
Under the federal government’s Refugee Assistance Program, a family of four in BC will have just under $1350 a month to live on in social assistance.
While 91% of refugees end up paying the money back, a 2011 survey by Citizenship and Immigration Canada found 61% of them were having difficulties doing so.
Kang says the money gets paid back because despite the challenges, refugees see repayment as a point of pride.
“The thing to note is that refugees to pay that back, because they see that as a priority and their commitment to the government.”
Interest on the loans kicks in after three years. According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, Canada is the only country in the world to charge interest on such loans. It is also the only country in the world to charge refugees for the cost of their medical examination upon entry.
Kang says the entire settlement sector has been pushing Ottawa to do away with the loan system. The City of Surrey has even launched a petition calling for an end to the program.
For now, Ottawa says the change only applies to the current group of government sponsored refugees fleeing Syria.