Liberals' waiving of travel costs for Syrian refugees created 2-tier system
Thursday, January 21, 2016

The first letter, dated Dec. 1, arrived before Christmas, while the second came just after the holiday. Both were from the government. Zouvik Baghjajian had been living in Canada for nearly five months by then, adjusting to her new life away from Syria.

She still could not get over how quiet it was near her new home, a tidy two-bedroom apartment in a suburban Toronto neighbourhood she shares with her husband and three children.  "Very peaceful. No bombs," Baghjajian said.

The letters, though, had their own impact. They were notices from Collection Services, part of the Department of Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees, informing the family they owed $8,892 and were already close to $500 in arrears.

"We were shocked," she said. "This is a huge number. Huge price. Why?" In fact, the bill was for the cost of flying the family to Canada from Lebanon and for the required medical checks done before they left.  

It's estimated dozens of Syrian refugees are receiving similar notices, advising them that they are starting out their new lives with a debt to repay, which can be as high as $10,000 for some. They have between one and six years to repay the loan, depending on how much they owe (Baghjajian and her family have six years to pay off their loan in monthly installments of $123.51, but interest begins to accrue after three years.)

It usually takes the government about three months from the time refugees land to set up a loan account and send out notices, so by the time refugees get the first notice, they are often already in arrears.

Liberals changed rules mid-game, activist says

The notices are going out in spite of the fact that the government waived the transportation loan for Syrian refugees arriving in Canada as part of its election promise to bring 25,000 refugees here.  

But the exemption only includes those who arrived in Canada after Nov. 4, 2015, when the Liberals came to power.

 

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Source: CBC