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sponsorship

Ratna Omidvar

For private sponsors such as Ratna Omidvar, the federal government's decision to push back the deadline for the arrival of Syrian refugees is causing problems, especially when it comes to housing.

Ms. Omidvar and her group – there are 10 members altogether and they call themselves Team Everest – were expecting the large family of refugees they are sponsoring to arrive in the first few planeloads next week. The family has passed all the screening and approval processes.

Now, they just don't know. "We just got another uncertainty thrown at us now," she said.

On Tuesday, the federal government announced that the bulk of the 25,000 refugees – 15,000 of the refugees are government-sponsored and 10,000 are privately sponsored – will come to Canada by the end of February. Only 10,000 refugees will come in before the end of December – 8,000 of them will be privately sponsored.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised during the election campaign that he would bring in 25,000 by the end of the year – and that was the deadline that private sponsorship groups, such as Ms. Omidvar's, were working toward.

"There is a certain amount of uncertainty inherent in being a private sponsor," said Ms. Omidvar. "We don't actually know when they'll come and the government doesn't tell you … and now they were supposed to come by the end of the year and now I just find out maybe yes, maybe no. So we deal with uncertainty."

Ms. Omidvar is also the chair of Lifeline Syria, an organization that sprang up earlier this year in response to the crisis in the war-torn country. It has 1,200 sponsors and close to 300 groups in the Toronto area, she said.

The issue for her team, she said, is not money – they had no problems raising close to $60,000 – it is housing.

"We've come very close at times to saying, 'okay, let's rent this townhouse.' Then we've said, 'isn't that a waste of money, because we don't actually know when they'll come …'"

Carolyn Davis is the executive director of Catholic Crosscultural Services, an organization in Toronto that has for the past eight years been contracted by the federal immigration department to train private sponsors.

She said the demand for their services has "skyrocketed" since the tragic picture of the young Kurdish boy, Alan Kurdi, who washed up dead on a Turkish beach last September, was published in newspapers around the world.

Before then, she said she had four staff who were busy training and running workshops. That has increased to eight staff members, and about four more are to be added.

Ms. Davis said for private sponsors, housing is a "massive issue." Sponsors must agree to cover the costs of housing and household expenses for the entire first year.

"Trying to find reasonably priced accommodation is not simple in many cities and towns," she said. But Ms. Davis noted that they are not alone. In many municipalities, there are English classes and trained settlement workers who can help, for example.

Meanwhile, Ms. Omidvar's group – it includes a film producer, a lawyer, a couple of public servants and even her bridge partner – is "sort of going crazy with the uncertainty," she said.

And so, she and the others are doing the things that must get done.

She recently put a call out on Facebook for 24 new bath towels – instantly, someone stepped up with a donation. They have collected furniture, which is being moved into one of the sponsor's garages.

"The generosity of the people is incredible," she said.

In addition, Team Everest bought cellphones and is in the process of programming them with the pictures and phone numbers of the members, which will be translated into Arabic so that when the family arrives, they will have phones.

In addition, the group has figured out a budget, and even have some wiggle room, she said.

Team Everest, like so many other private sponsorship groups, only started meeting several months ago. Then, the federal election happened. "We went from what I would say was a fairly unfriendly government to a very friendly government," she said.

And so, she is disappointed by Tuesday's announcement, and the delay.

"But I am understanding," she said. "If they want to do it right, if it takes another three months – as long as the commitment for the 25,000 is still on the table, and it is still on the table."