The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates over 103 million people were forcibly displaced as of mid-2022, with 32.5 million of those being classified as refugees. In November, Canada announced it intended to see 27,505 refugees settled as part of private sponsorships in Canada in 2023. As in the past, many of those sponsorships are through church congregations, but hopeful sponsors are seeing significant delays in processing applications for refugee claimants in Canada.
Related: 40 Years of Welcome: Canadian Churches Extend a Hand to Refugees (April 5, 2019)
Dena Nicolai, who is the Refugee Sponsorship and Resettlement Program Associate with World Renew in British Columbia, sees wait times of two to three years from when sponsors submit an application to welcoming the sponsored individuals to Canada. Nicolai said, “The lengthy period of time between when a refugee sponsorship application is submitted to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and when the sponsored refugees arrive in Canada remains a continual challenge for both sponsors and, even more so, for refugees overseas awaiting resettlement in safety.”
Bonnie Kissack, a member of the Core Refugee Team at River Park Christian Reformed Church in Calgary, Alta., said their team feels the pressure that these delays have caused. River Park currently has four refugee applications (for three individuals and one family) currently on file with IRCC. They have been approved for over two years, and by the end of April, three of the applications will have been approved for three years. Kissack said while they wait, the team is supporting these claimants financially and emotionally as they live in refugee camps and wait for word on their applications.
The team sees the support as necessary, even if the people they are waiting for are not yet in Canada. Because River Park “committed to sponsoring this family, it was felt that in order for them to experience optimal success in Canada, education was a necessity for the school-aged children. Being out of school for two to three years was not an option,” Kissack said. Costs of support—including school tuition fees, food, and medical care—come to more than $13,000 per year for just one family waiting for their approved application to move forward, the River Park team shared. The funds to cover these expenses are contributed by River Park members.
World Renew is a sponsorship agreement holder in Canada—an organization given the opportunity to partner with IRCC and “hold” the agreements of individual sponsors, such as River Park CRC. Nicolai said World Renew is working with other sponsorship agreement holders and other groups interested in refugee justice (such as the CRCNA Centre for Public Dialogue and Citizens for Public Justice) in order to push the government for more movement on these files and to bring the wait times back down to where they were before COVID-19—about 12 months. Nicolai said, “The government sets targets each year for the number of refugees it hopes to have resettled here, and church sponsorship groups are eager to be part of helping the government with that goal, as part of our call to do justice, love mercy, and welcome in the name of Jesus, but (those sponsorship groups) cannot do that without the government’s assistance.”