WINNIPEG, Man.— In an effort to clear a backlog of refugee applications, the Canadian government is limiting the number of new applications for private sponsorships that name specific refugees.

This change will affect the kind of refugees that congregations and community groups sponsor,  said Ed Wiebe, national coordinator of MCC’s refugee programs.

For example, in the past a congregation might begin by sponsoring a refugee. As people in the congregation got to know the refugee they might also learn about the desperate situation of the refugee’s family members and be moved to sponsor them as well. These would be considered “named” refugees because the congregation specifically identified the refugees it wished to sponsor.

Under the new limits, MCC can submit applications for only 29 named refugees in 2012, said Wiebe.  There is no limit, however, on the number of private sponsorships of refugees identified and named by Canadian embassies.

“Clearing the backlog is expected to take at least four years,” said Wiebe. “During this time, MCC will encourage congregations and sponsoring groups to adjust to the new realities and invest their time, energy and resources to help embassy-referred refugees build new lives in Canada.”  

For more than three decades, MCC Canada’s refugee assistance program has enabled congregations and other sponsoring groups to fund one-year sponsorships for more than 15,000 people resettling in Canada. The program matches sponsors with refugees that qualify for resettlement in Canada and helps both parties with information, training and other supports. 

MCC is among 70 organizations in Canada that has an agreement with the government to sponsor refugees under the private sponsorship program. Three years ago, the government asked these organizations to voluntarily limit the number of named sponsorships, but Wiebe said the number of named sponsorships continued to increase.  

A review of MCC’s refugee assistance program undertaken in 2009 recommended that MCC reduce the number of people sponsored through named sponsorships to 40 per cent of their total sponsorship—a significant reduction from 90 per cent.

“When the program started in 1979, all refugees were unnamed,” said Wiebe. 

“We want to continue listening compassionately to the requests of the families we have sponsored but we also want to respond to the compelling stories of refugees who cannot contact us directly.”

Currently, about 80 to 90 congregations and other sponsorship groups welcome about 150 to 180 new refugees to Canada each year through MCC’s refugee assistance program.

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada