Canada News

African refugee claimants struggle to find housing in Vancouver

25 October 2008 at 02:31 | 1133 views

By Jenny Francis, Vancouver.

Refugees flee persecution in their own country to seek protection elsewhere. Some go to UNHCR refugee camps, while others make their own way to the Canadian border to claim asylum here. Refugee Claimants (RCs) want to integrate into Canadian society, yet they struggle with a lack of information and support network, shortage of affordable housing and low incomes, and long CIC processing times for work permits and family sponsorship. RCs arriving in Vancouver struggle to find housing in an unfamiliar environment; most stay at a shelter or sleep outside until they connect with somebody. A few lucky RCs find a bed in one of the refugee transition houses in Vancouver, but most are forced to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, due in part to negative stereotypes, landlords are unwilling to rent to refugees, especially if they have temporary status, receive income assistance, lack Canadian references, belong to a ‘visible minority’ or have a non-Canadian accent. Another challenge is the time needed - around 9 months - to obtain a work permit. This is a time of enforced welfare and poverty for people who want to work, and welfare rates are extremely low:

TBC Welfare rates 2005:
2005 Total Welfare Income (TWI) TWI as % of Poverty Line
Single “Employable” $6,456 31%
Person with a Disability $10,656 51%
Lone Parent, One Child $13,948 54%
Couple, Two Children $18,466 48%
National Council of Welfare Fact Sheet 2005

The next step, Permanent Residence, can take several more years. During this time, low income, high insecurity, and a lack of affordable rental accommodation push RCs into precarious housing conditions, while frequent moves interrupt correspondence with lawyers, increasing insecurity. Moving is also costly, as deposits are lost to dishonest landlords and utility companies demand re/connection fees. Unfortunately, just when they are most vulnerable, RCs are often taken advantage of by unscrupulous landlords, employers, immigration consultants, employment agencies and lawyers. One of the most pressing concerns for many RCs is their family left overseas in the same dangerous conditions that caused them to flee and be offered asylum in Canada. Family separation not only hinders refugees’ integration into Canadian society (ie. parents separated from children often suffer from depression); it is also costly, as the sponsor must maintain two dependent households for several years. During the long period when they do not know when their children might arrive RCs also do not know from one month to the next how many bedrooms they will need. Due to political decisions regarding staffing, processing times for family sponsorship vary significantly by region: Processing times by selected visa posts, July 2003 - June 2004 # months to process:

Accra 17(30%) 24(50%) 44(80%)

Cairo 11(30%) 13(50%) 24(80%)

Nairobi 14(30%) 19(50%) 29(80%)

Pretoria 6(30%) 7(50%) 9(80%)

Ankara 6(30%) 8(50%) 13(80%)

Rome 9(30%) 11(50%) 22(80%)
Canadian Council for Refugees, More Than A Nightmare, 2005.

Refugees have a lot to contribute to Canadian society, but they need more supports, including faster processing times. If you meet a refugee claimant who needs assistance, please call Red Cross First Contact: 604-787-8858 / 1-866-771-8858.

Photo: BC Housing minister Rich Coleman.