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Surrey refugee petition goes to Ottawa

By Stefania Seccia

Surrey City Hall.
File photo.

Surrey City Hall. File photo.

 Surrey’s petition to ban the refugee transportation loan — so they won’t have to worry about paying the Canadian government back costs of being brought into the country from a war-torn nation — is now being reviewed.

Canada is one of the only countries to charge refugees the cost of transportation to the country, including charging interest on the loan, according to Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve.

That’s why she started a petition — reaching 1,000 signatures — to remove the transportation loan and ensure refugees aren’t forced to repay up to $15,000 for families who do arrive here. Villeneuve said it would cost about $38 million to forgive the loans across Canada.

About 91% of refugees pay back the loans but often have to borrow money to do so.

Villeneuve said she pitched the petition to Minister John McCallum, of immigration, refugees and citizenship, in early December when he visited Surrey.

“We’ve been lobbying to have that refugee transportation loan forgiven for government-assisted refugees as it’s such a tremendous psychological burner,” she said. “We had a round table and were able to talk to him directly and present the work we’ve done.

“It’s now in his office’s hands.”

Villeneuve said his office is checking into the loan for Syrian refugees to not have to pay the loan back, but she pressed for it to include all refugees.

“He said his office would check into it,” she said. “It was a rare opportunity to meet and talk to him face to face. I feel thrilled to pass on the petition.

“Before, it felt like many of us were beating our head against the wall. I’m hopeful.”

Minister McCallum was unable to comment by press deadline.