05/16/2012 09:41 EDT | Updated 07/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Cuts to private refugee sponsorship upsets church

Federal cuts to the number of refugees that can be privately sponsored is hurting those in dire need of protections, according to an Ottawa church.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is capping the number or refugees with private sponsorships to deal with a large backlog of refugee applications. The government announced the cap in March as part of the budget.

This means fewer private sponsors can support refugees for one year as they learn English and find a job. Mennonite churches across Canada, which sponsored 225 refugees in 2011, have only sponsored 29 in 2012.

"I know it's a really difficult situation for people waiting in these places," said Jane Snider, chairwoman of the refugee program at Ottawa's Mennonite Church.

The local church sponsored a family of six from Colombia last summer after the father's life was at risk.

3 refugee sponsorships cancelled this week

This year the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario can only bring in four refugees, according to Snider, forcing the Ottawa church to cancel its involvement with three refugees cases this week.

"I think it's especially hard because we had begun working with some of these cases already," she said, "Then to say, 'Oh sorry, we can't go this route', that's difficult."

The government assures the cap, which some call too drastic, is not permanent. The effort aims to cut down the backlog in a fewer number of years.

"We've made some policy choices to try and reduce the inventory in a few years as opposed to over a 10 to 15-year period," said Debra Presse, director of refugee re-settlement for CIC. "It's short term pain, that's for sure."

Presse added church groups would be able to sponsor some refugees selected by CIC, but those people have yet to be identified.