Surrey LIP: Councillor Villeneuve appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Monday, June 13, 2016

Councillor Villeneuve (Surrey LIP Co-Chair) and Aileen Murphy (Senior Social Planner) appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration as one of the witnesses at the May 30th, 2016 Committee meeting. Councillor made a presentation on City's efforts to eliminate refugee transportation and medical loans and explained why she has championed this cause for the last six years.

Below is an extract from Councilor's speech:

"The issue of refugee settlement has been an area of great concern to me and the City of Surrey for the past several years. I'll be focusing my comments on our city's efforts to welcome refugees and primarily on the refugee transportation loan program and the impact that the repayment of these loans has on refugee settlement and integration.

    As you know, loans were waived for Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada between November 4 and the end of February. I applaud this decision, and in the interests of supporting refugee settlement I am urging the federal government to extend this policy to all government-assisted refugees who are resettled to Canada. It is poor public policy for vulnerable refugee families to start a new life in this country with debt.

    The standing committee's study of the settlement of Syrian refugees is very important for Surrey. About 44% of all Syrian government-assisted refugees have settled in B.C., and they're living in Surrey. Any policy changes that result from this committee will have very important implications for our community.

    Refugees are not new to Surrey. Over the past decade it's been a primary destination for government-assisted refugees arriving in B.C. As a result, we have significant Somali, Iraqi, and Karen populations. Over the past decade, the struggles of vulnerable refugee children, youth, and families have been a concern in Surrey.

    We have been proactive in creating a welcoming community for new refugees. Since 2009 we have conducted a refugee housing study and a refugee myth-busting campaign, held public forums, created information pamphlets for both residents and Syrian refugees, and provided cultural awareness training for staff. We're working with the Surrey Board of Trade to link refugees and employers. We continue to work with our Surrey Local Immigration Partnership and our immigrant advisory round table to develop a refugee integration strategy.

    As you can see, the City of Surrey cares about settlement and integration of all government-assisted refugees who find a new home in our city, but we know that the repayment of transportation loans is a major burden for these newcomers.

    Upon arrival in Canada, as you know, GARs are required to sign a government loan. The loan covers the costs associated with their transportation, pre-entry medical exams, and a service fee. The maximum amount for an individual loan is $10,000 and, with children over 18, it can be up to $15,000. Refugees are expected to start paying this loan back within 12 months, and interest begins to accrue after three years. Canada is the only country in the world that charges interest.

    I first became aware of these loans in 2009, and thus the City of Surrey put forward a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities calling upon the government to terminate the requirement for refugees to have to repay the transportation loans. The resolution was endorsed by all B.C. municipalities. In 2010 it was endorsed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and at that time the federal government responded that immigration policies were under review.

    In 2013 the City of Surrey, in partnership with our poverty reduction coalition, launched a petition, and over 1,000 community members have signed it. Our MP, Randeep Sarai, will be presenting the petition to the House of Commons, and I urge you to support the petition and review this policy at your table.

    As a country, our goal should be to break the cycle of poverty for all Canadians. Research shows strong links between poverty and negative outcomes such as poor health, low educational involvement, homelessness, and increased involvement in the criminal justice system. Government-assisted refugees are provided with financial support that is equivalent to provincial income assistance, but it is not sufficient to beat the high rental rates in B.C. We see refugees with loan payments who are pushed into even deeper poverty. Anecdotally, we hear of families who are using their children's tax benefit to pay transportation loans or who are sending their children to work rather than to school to pay off government debt.

    Simply put, the refugee transportation loan is counterproductive. While the federal government makes significant investments in the settlement and integration of GARs, the transportation loan negatively impacts this process. It does not make economic sense."

Read meeting minutes

Source: Parliament of Canada