Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced on Thursday, March 24 that Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will partner with the Rainbow Refugee Committee (RRC) to provide up to $100,000 over three years to help settle gay refugees in Canada.
According to CIC, the funds will go toward three months of income support for each refugee that RRC or its partner organizations sponsor. Those sponsoring organizations will have to provide refugees with orientation services, accommodation, basic household needs, basic food staples, clothing and ongoing food needs for the duration of the sponsorship period.
The cost to sponsor one refugee for a year works out to about $11,800.
“We are very pleased to be working with the Rainbow Refugee Committee to help refugees who are in need of protection, particularly those who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation,” says Kenney in the press release. “By partnering with this organization and allowing Canadians to play a part in refugee protection, the private sponsorship program showcases grassroots support for this country’s international commitment to humanitarian action.”
“We see it as a very important first step towards creating more meaningful protection for refugees overseas – and I emphasize a first step,” says Sharalyn Jordan of the RRC.
RRC will work with groups in other cities, such as the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto, to use the funds for private sponsorship of gay refugees. “The plan really is to work nationally.”
The timing of the announcement, however, is raising a few eyebrows, considering that the details of the agreement have yet to be worked out.
“This is about electioneering,” says Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau. “This is about giving cover to a government that has completely ignored the interests and needs of the [queer] community here in Canada and the role of Canada as a safe haven for people facing persecution because of their identity all around the world.
“They’re trying to find a little bit of a fig leaf of a cover.”
NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow is willing to give Kenney a bit more credit given that he has been working on this issue for several months, but notes it’s still problematic.
“It contradicted the $53-million cuts to settlement services – groups like ACAS and others also do refugee support work, and it’s taking on one hand a huge amount of money, millions, and then giving a little bit of something to a group,” Chow says. “I’m glad the group got the funding – yes, they need it – and they do good work, but I wish there’s stable, long-term funding for settlement services of all refugee groups, including some of the church groups.”
Chow stresses that long-term and predictable funding would allow groups to plan ahead, fundraise, hire permanent staff and manage funding applications.
Kenney began his consultation with RRC in July, and there were meetings with groups in both Vancouver and Toronto, which Egale Canada helped to facilitate. Two weeks ago, the minister’s office contacted RRC, and one week ago, Kenney contacted RRC to discuss the decision to set up the blended program.
CIC is creating similar programs for Iraqi refugees with other groups in Canada, looking to resettle them using private sponsorship.
Around that time the RRC consultations started, Kenney encouraged more queer groups to step up with private sponsorship of refugees, but most groups said that their biggest problem was a need for capacity building, which this funding does not address.
“Once again, when we hear the big solution that Minister Kenney is proud to announce, [it] is not really going to address the meat of the problem and [will] just be an announceable band-aid pilot project that really won’t have any significant impact,” Trudeau says. “[I’m] glad they’re doing it and wish it wasn’t so last minute and actually was something that would have helped to a greater degree these communities in need.”
“Nobody’s naive enough to believe that this is enough,” says Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, who praised the announcement. “It certainly is enough to those most vulnerable people who are stranded in Turkey right now who need to get out.
“This money will go a long way to helping,” Kennedy says. “Now it’s up to our community – we have to get our act together and start fundraising and doing more.”
The experience of dealing with private sponsorships is something that Jordan hopes will help RRC grow and do more after 10 years of on-the-ground work with resettling refugees in Canada.
“By getting involved in overseas sponsorship, it’s an opportunity for us to learn and become effective advocates around overseas protection issues,” Jordan says.