Immigration loan program too expensive, say critics
July 6, 2009
Yusuf Mohamed Aman owes the government $10,152. Every month, the Ethiopian refugee and father of four young children receives a bill for $141. It's part of the money he owes the federal government for his family's flights from a refugee camp in Africa to Alberta.
“It's too much. Too much,” said Aman, a member of Ethiopia's marginalized Oromo ethnic group, speaking through a translator.
Refugee advocates also say the government's transportation loan program, which issues such bills to most government-sponsored refugees, costs too much. They argue that saddling newcomers with debt places undue hardship on those who arrive here under already tough circumstances.
“Many clients were in a refugee camp for 10, 15 or 20 years,” said Mary Fiakpui, a program manager at Catholic Social Services in Edmonton.
“Many have no education, lots are single mothers with five, six or seven children. Their husbands are dead or in other countries waiting to be sponsored. We bring people to Canada for safety, but emotionally there's no safety for them. We see people coming here and crying.”
The department argues interest rates on the loans are low — this year it's 1.75% — and that loans may be deferred for up to three years. Those in particularly tight financial circumstances can sometimes renegotiate the terms.
As of March 31, the outstanding loan account was $33.9 million.