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This article was published 15/2/2018 (713 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The Conservatives are calling on the Trudeau government to raise the quota for privately sponsored refugees, saying Canadians want to open their wallets and arms wider, especially for Yazidi refugees fleeing the Islamic State group.
"There’s a huge demand of generosity from Canadians," Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel said Monday. "We are calling on the government to lift that gap."
The private-sponsorship program involves small groups of Canadians paying a family’s living expenses for a year. The Tories want Ottawa to process more permits through the program, specifically some of the most vulnerable social and ethnic groups.
Winnipeg is home to one of the largest Yazidi communities in Canada, and family members say they have relatives languishing in refugee camps in northern Iraq after fleeing IS atrocities.
In November 2016, the Immigration Department reported there were roughly 45,000 refugees for whom private-sponsorship applications were being processed. That backlog has church and community groups phoning their MPs, wondering when they can sign a lease and start finding jobs for arriving families.
"They are not being listened to; this needs to change today," Rempel said Monday. "This is the No. 1 request that we get, in terms of immigration."
The Liberals have set an 18,000 target for privately sponsored refugees, with plans to raise it by 1,000 each year. To Rempel, that’s a puzzling cap when the Liberals find resources to deal with whatever number of asylum-seekers cross illegally into Canada through a loophole that grants them a refugee hearing.
"This is a policy gap that the government needs to address immediately, because there are many groups that have raised funds, to bring these people into Canada, and are being stymied by the government’s inefficiency and unwillingness to help these groups," Rempel said.
"If we can raise money to bring these survivors of genocide to Canada through the PSR program, why would we stop them from doing that? These are the most persecuted people in the world. And that’s the question I’m getting."
Winnipeg group Operation Ezra has brought more than 50 Yazidi refugees to Manitoba since July 2016, all privately sponsored. In the past, it has mentioned family members have relatives with deteriorating living conditions whom they would like to bring to Canada.
Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire sits on the House immigration committee, where he heard "very shaking" testimony about the plight of Yazidi people.
The Conservative MP said he regularly gets calls from groups in his riding who want to bring in refugees. "There is that generosity… throughout Canada," Maguire said. "Anything we can do to help them come in would be a plus."
Winnipeg Liberal MP Terry Duguid said he’s proud of the city’s Yazidi community, but hasn’t yet examined the immigration quota set by his Liberal colleagues. "Our community has welcomed them with open arms, and we would love to have more," he said Tuesday.
The government has almost reached its goal of resettling 1,200 northern Iraqi refugees fleeing violence by the so-called Islamic State group. That goal was set a year ago when Rempel tabled a motion that got all-party support, originally aimed at Yazidis with a deadline for the end of 2017.
As of a month ago, 1,200 visas had been issued, mostly to Yazidis, though roughly 200 were still awaiting flights amid logistical challenges. In November, the Yazidi Association of Manitoba offered to assist with the airlift, saying it could navigate paperwork issues and cultural issues.
That group has helped welcome more than 100 refugees to Winnipeg, all through "government-assisted" resettlement, where Ottawa financially supports them for a year, instead of a sponsor group.