Council calls for refugee loan relief
By TOM GODFREY
Mon, June 22, 2009
TORONTO — Federal immigration officials are being called on to “absorb” $38 million in travel and medical loans given to refugees who settled in Canada.
The Immigration Department now provides as much as $10,000 for transportation and medical costs to refugees privately sponsored by churches or community groups.
The money is handed out with the understanding it will be repaid when the refugees start working.
The newcomers have a hard time making ends meet and shouldn't be saddled with repaying the loans, said Janet Dench, of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
“We would like the federal government to absorb the costs of these loans,” she said.
“Refugee families start their life in Canada with a debt of up to $10,000 that they must repay with interest.
“These loans are holding them hostage when they are just starting out,” she said.
The council estimates it will cost about $38 million to cover the loans and $15 million yearly to pay for new arrivals.
Scarborough-Agincourt Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, a member of a federal immigration standing committee, said the loans are meant to be repaid once the refugees get on their feet.
“At some point, the loans have to be repaid,” Karygiannis said. “The whole point is for them to come to Canada and establish themselves.”
Refugees are given an interest-free grace period that may vary from one to three years.