By: Kerry Molitor
The Ethics of Representing Syrian Refugees
The nation rallied when the Liberals pledged to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by mid-January 2016. Patriotism was high and Canadians saw themselves as a compassionate nation, helping those in need. The media was full of positive stories about lives that were about to change as a result of Canada’s generosity. But in April 2016, CBC News reported that a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant was allegedly violating federal rules on private refugee sponsorships by using the refugees’ own money to fund their expenses rather than money provided by sponsors.
Canada’s immigration program allows groups of individuals and community organizations to sponsor a Syrian refugee or refugee family to permanently move to Canada, but sponsors must financially support the sponsored refugees, typically for one year. Usually the money is transferred from sponsors to refugees through a trust account set up at bank for refugees’ living expenses.
It appears that a Regulated Consultant partnering with a group of sponsors asked Syrian refugees to deposit their own money into a trust account to pay their own living expenses. This scheme suggested that some sponsors were avoiding their obligations to contribute money to refugee trust accounts.
While the vast majority of the world’s refugees are living in dire conditions in refugee camps, some refugees are middle class families living in wealthy countries. These people are still refugees because they cannot return to their dangerous home country and are unable to obtain citizenship in the country where they are. It appears that these refugees were being asked to pre-pay their living expenses in exchange for being sponsored as Canadian permanent residents.
Even though these refugees could afford the payments, such arrangements violate the sponsorship program rules set by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. A statement on the Immigration web site makes that very clear, “The sponsoring group may establish a trust fund for the sponsorship but may not accept or require payment of funds from a refugee for submitting a sponsorship.”
The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) is the national regulatory body designated by the government of Canada to oversee Regulated Consultants. The Council was quick to respond with a press release from Christopher Barry, the organization’s Interim President and Chief Executive. “These allegations concern us greatly and we are employing all resources available to us to uncover the truth and to ensure that all Canadian immigration consultants carry out their duties with the highest standards of ethical practice.”
The following day, the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants issued its own statement. “The alleged unethical behaviour described in these media reports does not represent the high ethical standards that we uphold as the national Association for our profession. [Regulated Consultants] provide support every day helping refugees from war-torn nations settle in Canada, so that they and their families can have a safe and more prosperous future.”
As a Regulated Consultant, I echo the concerns raised by the Council and the Consultants’ Association. I am deeply troubled at the thought that a colleague would allegedly violate the rules for trust funds. This violates the spirit of Canada’s generous refugee program and brings the entire immigration consulting profession into disrepute.
While I am glad that this alleged exploitation of refugees has been exposed, I feel that the issue of misuse of trust funds is getting confused with another issue of whether consultants can legitimately charge fees for the immigration services they provide.
Regulated Consultants are professionals who help people understand Canada’s immigration system. While Immigration’s website says that people do not need authorized representatives to complete their applications, many potential immigrants choose to hire a professional rather than risk making mistakes when so much is at stake. Sponsoring groups, not the refugees themselves, often prefer to hire a qualified representative to help them navigate the often-complicated sponsorship process.
Jeremiah J. Shea, a former Canadian Diplomat and Canada Visa Office Manager who is now a Regulated Consultant explains, “We are like any other profession, from lawyers, to dentists, to accountants, to doctors. They, like us, charge fees for the skilled services provided. For those who find the Canadian immigration process complex or challenging, we are there to provide professional advice to those who would like to retain our services.”
Immigration consultants have family members and employees who rely on them to earn income from the work they perform. If it is unethical for a Regulated Consultant to charge for his or her services, it equally unethical for the airlines to charge refugees for their flights to Canada or for a landlord to charge rent to a Syrian refugee tenant.
And let us not forget that government and Non-Governmental Organizations are profiting from their work with refugee resettlement. We need look no further than Michel Dorais, Canada’s former Deputy Minister of Immigration who, according to the CBC, is being paid $110,000 for the three-month job of heading the city’s committee to welcome thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. That is a pro-rated salary of $440,000 per year to welcome some of Canada’s poorest new immigrants to the country.
Canada will experience growing pains over the coming year as the country continues to accept more Syrian refugee families. The number of people who have come forward to donate time and money towards the resettlement cause is commendable; however, there are also people who rely on the influx of refugees for their own survival whether they be the corner store owner, the landlord, the government worker, or the Regulated Consultant.