Government to start making sponsored Syrian refugees pay travel costs

Not all refugees have to pay back Canadian government loans
WATCH: Immigration groups say Ottawa has a double standard when it comes to Syrian refugees. As Nadia Stewart reports, only some of them have to pay back government loans.

In recent months, Hisham Wattar has privately sponsored Syrian relatives to join him in Canada.

But if Wattar continues to do so, it’ll start costing his family money.

“We’re going to lose something along the way by trying to cut $3,000 from each of those children right now,” he lamented.

When the incoming Liberal government announced its plan to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, all fees were waived.

READ MORE: 5 things to know about the Syrian refugee resettlement program

But the Association for Sponsorship Agreement Holders says it’s now being told by Ottawa that privately sponsored Syrian refugees who arrived after March 1 will have to have to once again start paying back their loans.

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Government-assisted and blended visa refugees will continue to have their fees waived.

It’s not a big surprise, says Scott McLeod of the Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association Spokesperson, but still a big disappointment.

“Having that debt and not having employment can be a major barrier, both financially as well as psychologically for their proper integration into Canadian society,” he said.

READ MORE: No, Canada doesn’t spend more on refugees than on pensioners

Every year, the federal government issues $13 million through the decades-old Immigration Loan Program. Refugees are supposed to begin paying that back within 30 days, but according to a government evaluation of loans granted between 2003 and 2012, 68 per cent waited six months or more to start.

No one from the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada responded to our request for more information about the change.

However, the Syrian Canadian Council of B.C. says looking at the bigger picture, the loan is a small price to pay.

“If you’re looking at maybe $3,000 out of maybe 30 or 40 or 50 thousand dollars, this is really a small amount that probably can be manageable,” said Rahim Othman, the council’s spokesperson.