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Surrey petition wants refugee loan ban

Reporter Stefania Seccia

By Stefania Seccia, 24 hours

Surrey wants to put pressure on MPs running in the upcoming federal election to not force government-assisted refugees to pay back the refugee transportation loan.
(Fotolia)

Surrey wants to put pressure on MPs running in the upcoming federal election to not force government-assisted refugees to pay back the refugee transportation loan. (Fotolia)

Canada is one of the only countries to not only charge refugees the cost of transportation to the country, but interest on the loan as well, and one Surrey councillor intends to make it an issue in the upcoming federal election.

Coun. Judy Villeneuve said it’s a goal for her to have the refugee transportation loan removed so the “poorest of the poor” aren’t force to repay it.

“In reality it can be up to $15,000 for families that do arrive here, people with no assets,” she said. “Some spent 18 years in war camps, and are coming here with really very few assets from a material perspective, and have never lived in an urban environment.”

Villeneuve said Surrey has previously called for the removal of the refugee transportation loan program, but nothing came of it.

“We determined that to forgive those loans, it would be at the most $38 million across Canada,” she said.

Surrey started a petition to remove the program with the goal to collect 1,000 signatures, and it’s so far garnered 800.

The plan is to send letters to all candidates in the federal election and put public pressure on them to promise the program’s removal once in office.

Sherman Chan, director of family and settlement services at MOSAIC, said about 91% of refugees pay back the loans.

“When people repay, it doesn’t mean they have the money,” he said. “Really, to pay for it ... people have to borrow money to pay it back because they don’t want to be seen by the government that they owe the government money.”

Chan said he’s glad Surrey is taking this issue on as the government should consider “the burden that’s put on government-assisted refugees.”

“We have seen people, they are living in poverty but make sure they have money to pay back the government,” he said. “That means their life is compromised because of that.”

Mario Ayala, refugee services director with Inland Refugee Society of BC, said to pay back the loan within the first year is a tremendous feat for new refugees.

“It’s very hard to get a job here, especially when you don’t have the knowledge of the language,” he said. “The protection has to be total, not just partial.”

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