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Vancouver group can help bring in LGBT Syrians, government says

Cost-sharing program with Rainbow Refugee Society to help relocate queer refugees

Toronto, Canada - December 11, 2015: Sponsors, family, and Canadians simply wishing to welcome their new neighbours await the first plane's arrival of Syrian refugees at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Credit: Stacey Newman/iStock Editorial

As questions arise whether Canada is adequately accommodating LGBT Syrians during its ongoing airlift of 25,000 refugees, the government is highlighting one group through which Canadians can help.

Under the former Conservative government, the immigration department signed a cost-sharing partnership with the Vancouver group Rainbow Refugee Society in 2011.

“This initiative was completed in 2015, however due to continued sponsorship interest, [it] was extended to 2017, including increased allocated funds set aside for this project,” Jessica Séguin, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, told Daily Xtra this week.

Last week, the NDP’s LGBT critic slammed the Liberal government for ongoing issues that prevent LGBT groups in Canada from sponsoring Syrians, and for lacking a clear plan to accommodate queer refugees who arrive without a sponsoring group.

“The government continues to express its good intentions while the lives of LGBT Syrians remain at serious risk,” NDP MP Randall Garrison said Feb 18, 2016, in Parliament.

“Three obstacles still remain: getting access to the Canadian system from the region, meeting the unique settlement needs of LGBT refugees, and making links with the local LGBT groups in Canada waiting to sponsor them,” he said, after multiple meetings with the immigration minister’s closest staff.

But the immigration department now says it’s working on all fronts.

“The government has publicly and pro-actively encouraged refugee sponsorship organizations, as well as gay and lesbian organizations across the country, to privately sponsor refugees who face violence and persecution, including due to their sexual orientation,” Séguin said on behalf of the department.

Séguin also said that Syrians are given resources based on their needs, including those who identify as gender or sexual minorities.

“Programming in this area has included targeted activities focused on empowerment, community engagement and partnerships, and inclusion activities aimed at improving settlement and LGBTI services,” Séguin said, adding that unnamed organizations “have delivered workshops and provided resources aimed at raising awareness and fostering well-being of LGBTI newcomers.”

When the Liberals announced their plan to airlift 25,000 Syrians in November 2015, they listed “members of the LGBTI community” as one of four priority groups, following United Nations policies.