Sunday, September 16, 2007

Forgive refugee loans, recommends immigration group

Last Updated: Monday, September 10, 2007 | 10:50 AM MT
CBC News

Refugees should not be required to pay back federal loans obtained to help them settle in Canada, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society says.

Loans are granted to government-sponsored refugees to pay for plane tickets, finding a place to live and other initial expenses. The loans have an interest rate of 4.5 per cent, with repayment required to begin 30 days after arrival.

But paying the money back puts an enormous strain on someone who may not speak the language or have a job, says Fariborz Birjandian, who heads the Calgary immigration organization.

If the loans were forgiven or at least reduced by 75 per cent, the refugees could use the payment money, often about $100 a month, to buy food or clothing, Birjandian told CBC News.

A desperate family living in a refugee camp will agree to anything when presented with the opportunity to immigrate to Canada, he said.

Canada Immigration area director Robert Ferguson says the government has no plans to forgive the loans, of which 91 per cent are repaid.

If a person is having trouble making the payments, the monthly amount can be reduced or the loan can be deferred altogether for up to two years, Ferguson said.

"As a last resort, the department does consider using collection agencies in recovering the amount of the loan," Ferguson said.