10/06/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 12/05/2014 05:59 EST

Syrian refugee backlog blamed on federal government cuts

Federal government job cuts have increased problems with bringing Syrians refugees to Canada, say advocates trying to help those refugees re-settle.

Evidence points to a bureaucratic backlog of files inside Citizenship and Immigration Canada, as an internal government report produced late last year blames the backlog on too few staff in the department’s centralized office in Winnipeg. That office processes privately sponsored refugee claims.

- Read the complete internal report at bottom of story.

The report states the backlogs are at "an unprecedented high" and warns it could take several years to catch up.      

Peter Showler, a professor at the University of Ottawa and former chairman of Canada's immigration and refugee board, called the long processing times inexcusable.

Showler spent time last spring working for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) in Lebanon and he said the delays caused human suffering and misery.

"There's no way of knowing whether it's ministerial policy or gross inefficiency. In either way, the delays are beyond belief," Showler said.

Feds promised to bring over 1,300 Syrian refugees

The Canadian government announced last year it would bring 1,300 Syrian refugees into Canada. The majority of refugees are sponsored by private groups, mostly churches, but to date only a couple hundred refugees have actually arrived.

In comparison, Sweden has taken in 30,000 Syrians with a population that is about one quarter of Canada's.

The authors of the internal CIC report recommend the government hire more permanent staff, as well as hire some temporary workers to conduct a "blitz" to clear the backlog.

"Improvements to process accountability and processing efficiency cannot be realized without having a sufficient number of dedicated staff in place to handle core functions and to eliminate the backlog that has developed over time," the report reads.

'Damning report,' expert says

"It’s a damning report. It doesn’t beat around the bush," said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees.

"There have been a lot of cuts in Citizenship and Immigration Canada, notably they’ve closed offices across Canada … It’s quite clear that things have not been going well."

Departmental officials won’t say if more staff have been hired since the report was released late last year. But they said efforts are being made to speed up the process.

"Processing is done according to priority, with Syrian files currently identified as a priority," according to a statement from a CIC spokesperson.

That concerns people like Showler, though, who wonder about other non-Syrian refugees currently in the cue.

"That means someone who was supposed to come from Thailand, Burma, Africa …that means they're being delayed even further," he said.

Showler said in the past, Canada has acted much faster to help refugees escape to safety.

"We did it for Yugoslavia. We brought in 5,000 and we did it within one year … we know how to do this. This is an issue of political will," he added.