News / Ottawa

Report: Canada’s privately-sponsored refugee system flawed, wait times too long

The government has promised to eliminate the refugee application backlog by 2019 and reduce wait times for new applications to 12 months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets members of a Syrian refugee family during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Friday, July 1, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets members of a Syrian refugee family during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Friday, July 1, 2016.

The federal government needs to allocate more resources to reduce wait times for privately sponsored refugees, especially those coming from places other than Syria, a new survey says.

The report was commissioned by Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), an Ottawa-based Christian charity that tries to influence public policy debates on a number of issues, including refugee rights.

CPJ executive director Joe Gunn said his own congregation in Ottawa applied to sponsor a Syrian family in autumn 2015. “There was money collected, all kinds of furniture and everything was prepared, but we waited and a family didn’t arrive until March 2017,” he said.

The survey includes responses from 32 sponsorship agreement holders (SAH) across the country, most of which are faith-based organizations. The length of wait times was the biggest complaint, especially for non-Syrian refugees.

“We actually heard of cases of six and a half years’ wait,” Gunn said.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provides processing times for refugee claims on its website, broken down by country. Among them, an application from Ethiopia takes 74 months, Afghanistan takes 63 months and Haiti takes 54 months.

No one from the department was available for an interview Wednesday. But, in a statement, spokesperson Lindsay Wemp said the government implemented “extraordinary measures” to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 2016. “For that reason, it is impossible to compare application processing times for the Syrian refugee resettlement initiative to average processing times.”

“Refugee processing is complex due to working with some of the world’s most at-risk people in challenging local conditions,” it added.

The government has promised to eliminate the refugee application backlog by 2019 and reduce wait times for new applications to 12 months.

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