Syrian refugees warned of resettlement ‘for profit’
Resettlement groups are warning people to beware of online offers from those hoping to turn a profit off the backs of desperate refugees.
Ottawa’s plan to usher in 25,000 Syrian refugees may have also opened the door to unscrupulous people seeking to make a profit off the backs of desperate asylum seekers hoping to resettle in Canada.
Flyers and online messages have sprung up on social media offering to connect Syrian refugees with sponsorship groups and submit their refugee applications to Canada — for a fee of hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars.
But resettlement groups are warning people to beware, noting that refugee resettlement is about helping people, not about turning a profit.
“You don’t make money off humanitarian work. That’s why refugee resettlement is under the humanitarian stream of Canadian immigration,” said Brian Dyck, chair of the Council of the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association. “We don’t limit resettlement to those who can afford it.”
Government-recognized private sponsorship agreement holders (SAH) say they only work directly with groups or individuals who fundraise to support the refugee they select for resettlement — not with a third party — at a fee of no more than $100, as government rules stipulate.
One recent posting on an online Arabic news page offered to connect Syrian refugees with private sponsorship groups, referring inquiries to a licensed immigration consultant. The message did not mention a fee for the matchmaking. It is not illegal for a registered member of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council(ICCRC) to charge for such a service.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada would not comment on the legality of immigration consultants playing matchmaker, and referred the Star to its website on how to file a complaint against authorized or unauthorized representatives.
Bob Brack, president and CEO of ICCRC, said the consultants’ watchdog does not cap service charges and only requires members’ fees be “fair and reasonable.” He warns the public to be cautious when signing a retainer’s agreement with a consultant to ensure what work — such as filling forms, securing sponsors and courier — is being provided at the fee.
Syrian-Canadian Bashar Kassir said he has seen flyers and online messages from posters in Ontario and Quebec offering help to bring in refugees. When contacted, he said they quoted fees of anywhere between $700 and $3,000.
“Legal or not, people should not take advantage of these vulnerable refugees,” the Toronto man said.
Alexandra Kotyk, project manager of Lifeline Syria, said her group has organized community information meetings to educate the public about resettlement programs.
“You shouldn’t have to pay somebody to resettle to Canada. There are so many Canadians who want to help for free,” said Kotyk. “It is illegal to ask refugees themselves to prepay or repay for the costs of sponsorships.”
Lifeline Syria has held pro-bono legal clinics where volunteer lawyers work alongside interpreters and other volunteers to help sponsorship groups apply to bring Syrian refugee families to Canada — for free.
Kotyk said the refugee sponsorship process is complex and Canadian visa offices in the Middle East should post Arabic sponsorship information sheets on their websites to help prospective refugees navigate the process.
As a first step, she said, sponsors should visit the website of the government-fundedRefugee Sponsorship Training Program to learn about the working of refugee resettlement sponsorships.
“People need to go to recognized groups. You have to know you can never pay to get your case to go faster. No one can guarantee you somebody is for sure going to be resettled. If they do, they are lying.”