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COLUMN: Refugee loan repayments are causing hardship
Canada is home to thousands of refugees, and on the global stage, we are seen as a country that is committed to helping individuals who face oppression and torture in their home countries.
Government-assisted refugees receive a government loan for their transportation and medical related costs, when they come to Canada.
According to the Canadian Council of Refugees, “refugee families start their new life in Canada with a debt of up to $10,000.” As refugees who have lost everything and come to Canada to create a new beginning, they are already faced with a significant loan – one that many have difficulty repaying.
Furthermore, the Canadian government charges interest on the loan. In fact, according to a fact sheet on the City of Surrey’s website, it “is the only country” to do so.
The document further describes how “many GARs [Government Assisted Refugees] fear deportation…[and] loan payment takes priority above food, clothing, rent, or furniture.”
No refugees who are given asylum in this great country should have to choose between their basic needs and loan repayments.
First Call, an advocacy organization, describes how paying the loan can prevent young people from educating themselves because they are trying to pay back the loan by working.
First Call feels the loan repayment program leads to higher costs for society in the long run. About $13 million to $15 million is spent yearly by the government on transporting refugees, and $38 million of existing loans remain to be paid back to the government.
The City of Surrey, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Surrey Welcoming Communities Project, and advocacy organizations have all supported the idea of abolishing the loans, and allowing refugees to begin their life in Canada without such a debt.
If we are to truly give refugee families a chance to rebuild their lives and young refugees the chance to prosper and give back to society, we must not hinder their efforts by adding further hardships and obstacles.
As refugees who are learning to live in a new country, and to adapt to different cultural norms with limited financial means, they already face significant challenges.
Although many individuals and organizations have raised a strong voice against this loan, the federal government has not taken action to remove the loan interest, let alone the full loan payments.
So we must continue to speak out against this and tell the government that these loans are not acceptable.
To petition the Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, to end this loan repayment program, please go to the following link: http://bit.ly/1grkJ9m and print out a copy of the petition sheet.
Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.