Should Canadian refugee loans be changed to grants?
Published Thursday, October 8, 2015 10:15PM EDT
For nearly three years, Hany Al Moliya and his family lived in a refugee camp after fleeing war-torn Syria. The young man, who hopes to one day attend university, captured his family's journey through the lens of his camera.
"Those are the keys, but there is no home anymore," Al Moliya told CTV News, referring to a photograph of the keys for his family's old home.
Al Moliya is legally blind. He has nystagmus, a debilitating eye condition which causes everything to be out of focus unless it's near his face. Snapping pictures helps him see the world and share his story.
Today, the Syrian refugee continues to document his life -- but a drastically different one in Saskatchewan, where he now lives.
"Canada was my dream and it's come true," Al Moliya said.
But that dream came at a cost -- a $10,000 government loan that Al Moliya and his family began repaying within 30 days of arriving on Canadian soil. The loan covers medical examinations and travel costs.
According to Al Moliya, he and his family didn't hesitate to accept the loan. The family of eight was just happy to leave the refugee camp and move into a quiet neighbourhood in Regina this summer.
"Our thoughts about this home is just to get a home," Al Moliya said. "We didn't think about who was going to give us a home -- we don't think about all this. We just wanted to leave the camp."
Each year, since 2006, roughly 7,000 government-assisted refugees arrive in Canada. These people are selected based on their hardships -- survivors who are often victims of trauma or torture.
Canada's response to the Middle East refugee crisis has been in the spotlight as the Oct. 19 election nears. Canadian groups that help refugees have been lobbying Ottawa to have the government loans changed to grants, arguing that loans present an additional financial burden for refugees who have nothing.
"This is a severe hardship for our clients," said Rita Chahal, the executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. "They are having to take money from their food budget, from their housing budget, and often forced into low-paying survival jobs just to make the loan payment."
Canada is one of three countries to offer refugee loans, a program that has been in place since 1951. Australia and the U.S. offer similar loans but unlike Canada, they don't charge interest.
Despite a push by some groups to change the refugee loan program, however, Ottawa has defended the repayment structure.
"Loan repayments go back into the fund to help finance new loans for other immigrants and refugees in need," said a statement from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Meanwhile, back in Regina, Al Moliya and his family continue to build a new life for themselves. They are also receiving monthly support payments based on welfare rates for one year to cover rent for their furnished home, and money for food and clothing.
With a report from CTV's Winnipeg Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon