Do refugees get a free ride at the expense of Canadian citizens?
The answer from two Shuswap citizens who have been involved with supporting refugees in Salmon Arm is an unequivocal “No!”
This despite seemingly constant complaining that the government should close the borders to refugees, that refugees are admitted without oversight, that they get a free ride and get funds that should go to Canadians only.
Cindy Derkaz, Federal Liberal candidate for North Okanagan-Shuswap, has been involved in a private capacity since the community first began to welcome refugees to Salmon Arm.
The private group she belongs to has supported four families, who were lucky to escape the Syrian civil war and might otherwise still be living in the hell of an overcrowded refugee camp in the Middle East. Final arrangements are being made for a fifth family.
“Basically, they get the same as a person receiving social assistance in the province in which they settle; in B.C. it’s based on the provincial social assistance rates,” she says, noting many Syrian refugees enter the country in the federal Blended Visa Office Referral (BVOR) program in which a sponsor group takes on the responsibility to make sure the family gets adequate food and housing for one year. “They arrive with permanent resident status and are eligible for the federal Canada child benefit as are all Canadian residents.”
BVOR provides funding for half a year and the sponsoring group signs a contract for the the other half. But Derkaz notes what the program includes is not sufficient to cover housing in Salmon Arm. So the support group steps up to provide further support.
“It’s the generosity of members of the community that supports the family,” she says. “There is an extensive screening process by the UN and Canadian Immigration for people coming from the camps,” she says. “If you just cross the border, you don’t get admitted. And there is very intensive health screening.”
Derkaz says the refugees are coming from very vulnerable circumstances, hoping for what everyone does – a better future for their children.
Brian Ayotte, who was chair of the community group that banded together to provide sanctuary to Syrian refugees, says at the outset a few families had their airfare paid by Ottawa.
“Since then every family has to repay; it is a debt to the federal government,” he says. “The majority of the Syrian families are working; some may have seasonal lapses, but there is not one on the dole.”
Ayotte debunks the theory that some Canadians are suffering because of the financial assistance refugees are receiving and warns against erecting a wall to keep them out.
“I think it’s very easy to create false stories about people that you don’t want here; I’m not gonna call it racism, but I think there are people who don’t want anyone of a different religion or colour to be here in Canada, so they generate false stories,” he says, calling the refugee crisis a global concern. “Our security is based on the global state and anything we can do for the desperate 65 million refugees is going to help us in the long run because we’re all connected.”