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Government seeks to extend LGBT refugee pilot project

Only a third of pledged money has been used for sponsored claimants

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is in talks to extend a 2011 pilot project that has so far helped nine sponsored refugees reach Canada. Credit: ThinkStock

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is in talks to extend a 2011 pilot project that has so far helped nine sponsored refugees reach Canada, along with six claimants who are abroad awaiting approval. Though the project has reached its three-year deadline, only two thirds of the funding has been tapped.

In the lead-up to the 2011 election, in March of that year, former immigration minister Jason Kenney pledged up to $100,000 for refugees sponsored through chapters of the Rainbow Refugee Committee (RRC), a grassroots organization in Vancouver. The government pledged the funding for refugees to use over a three-year period for settling expenses, in addition to three months of income, similar to social assistance.

CIC says it costs groups approximately $11,800 to sponsor a refugee for a year, including accommodation, household needs, food staples and clothing. CIC told Xtra that 12 refugee applications were submitted within two years of the project’s launch, using just $60,000 of the funding. The agency says this is the most recent available information.

RRC says four more applications were submitted in the pilot project’s final year. Chris Morrisey, who co-founded RRC in 2000, confirmed to Xtra that the sponsorship money has helped the following people: one successful Iraqi refugee and one claimant, four Iranian refugees and one claimant, four Syrian claimants and two refugees from Southeast Asia whose country RRC is withholding for privacy reasons. Xtra reached out to three sponsored claimants, all of whom declined interviews citing personal safety.

These asylum seekers come to Canada through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. Since 1979, the program has allowed approved organizations like church groups, as well as private groups of five Canadian citizens or permanent residents to pledge financial and practical support for asylum seekers. “Private sponsors can help to resettle some of the people most in need of protection in the world, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered refugees,” a CIC spokesperson told Xtra in an email. “CIC is currently in negotiations to extend the agreement for another year.”

Morrisey says RRC is thankful for the funding and encourages more Canadians to sponsor LGBT refugees abroad. However, RRC has been critical of changes in refugee policy. The group also objected to Kenney citing the pilot project in a mass email to LGBT Canadians highlighting his party’s action on refugees.

CIC says it “continues to work to develop capacity within the LGBT community to sponsor refugees,” noting that the current immigration minister, Chris Alexander, met with Iranian groups on March 7, including Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees.

For more information on sponsoring or assisting LGBT refugees, visit