Liberals' waiving of travel costs for Syrian refugees created 2-tier system

January 19, 2016

The first letter, dated Dec. 1, arrived before Christmas, while the second came just after the holiday. Both were from the government. Zouvik Baghjajian had been living in Canada for nearly five months by then, adjusting to her new life away from Syria.

She still could not get over how quiet it was near her new home, a tidy two-bedroom apartment in a suburban Toronto neighbourhood she shares with her husband and three children.

"Very peaceful. No bombs," Baghjajian said.

The letters, though, had their own impact. They were notices from Collection Services, part of the Department of Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees, informing the family they owed $8,892 and were already close to $500 in arrears.

"We were shocked," she said. "This is a huge number. Huge price. Why?"

In fact, the bill was for the cost of flying the family to Canada from Lebanon and for the required medical checks done before they left. 

It's estimated dozens of Syrian refugees are receiving similar notices, advising them that they are starting out their new lives with a debt to repay, which can be as high as $10,000 for some. They have between one and six years to repay the loan, depending on how much they owe (Baghjajian and her family have six years to pay off their loan in monthly installments of $123.51, but interest begins to accrue after three years.)

Read more: Liberals' waiving of travel costs for Syrian refugees created 2-tier system