Canada has teamed up with community organisations, religious foundations and other groups in a private sponsorship program that has resettled more than 288,000 refugees since the 1970s. Sponsors provide monetary support for individual refugees or families and help them access services like healthcare, schooling and bank accounts or find somewhere to live. Sponsorship usually lasts for a year.
Results & Impact
Private sponsors have brought more than 288,000 refugees to Canada since the 1970s. In the 2014 tax year, those supported by partnerships earned an average of US$14,000 compared with $10,000 among their government sponsored counterparts.
Government of Canada, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the University of Ottawa, the Radcliffe Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations
Organisations and groups of individuals can apply to sponsor a refugee to be resettled to Canada. Beneficiaries may be identified by the Canadian government or chosen by sponsors, who commit to providing both monetary support, equal to social security allowances, and support in the form of assistance. This can include employment guidance, as well as linking refugees to services like schools and healthcare. The programme has been running since the 1970s, but rose to global attention in recent years as a result of the Syrian refugee crisis
Cost & Value
Each individual refugee requires a sponsorship of $9,500 (USD), rising to between $15-22,000 for a family. Direct costs to the government for each privately sponsored refugee are around $10,000
Running since the 1970s
The process of resettling refugees is lengthy and time consuming, and has resulted in a backlog of requests as sponsors line up more quickly than potential refugees are approved. As a result the Canadian government in 2017 quietly scaled back its targets for sponsorship of Syrian refugees for the year, capping the amount of Syrians and Iraqis that could be resettled by the sponsorship program to 1,000 – although the program expects to admit 16,000 new refugees this year
Australia has implemented a private sponsorship scheme, and discussion of similar programs has been floated by senior politicians in the UK, France and Germany
Canada has provided safe homes for more than 288,000 people fleeing persecution and conflict, thanks to a program allowing citizens and organisations to privately sponsor refugees in the country.
The project has created an easy-to-understand system for groups to pledge monetary sponsorship and support for refugees from all over the world to resettle in Canada. It’s attracted popular attention thanks to the Syrian refugee crisis of the last six years. But it has been running for much longer – since 1978 – when it was set up in response to the “boat people” crisis that mobilised Canada’s public to support refugees.
“Canada has a strong and unique tradition of private sponsorship, beginning with the Indo-Chinese movement in the late 1970s,” Nancy Caron, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said. “Of the more than 60,000 people that found refuge in Canada in 1979-1980 after the Vietnam War, over half were supported by private sponsorship groups.”
Sponsors often come from faith-based, community, educational or humanitarian organisations, and any groups of more than five people can collectively apply to the Canadian government to support a refugee. Government agencies also work together with private organisations to resettle refugees who have special needs, including medical disabilities and trauma, providing state support for food, housing and services.
Each group of sponsors agrees to provide a refugee with support for a specified period, usually one year from their arrival in Canada or, if it comes first, the point at which the refugee becomes self-sufficient in the country.
Sponsorship isn’t a trivial task. It means providing money for living expenses including rent, food and utilities, supporting families to enrol their children in schools, register with doctors and access language training, and helping in the search for employment. Participants will be responsible for locating interpreters, introducing refugees to the community, and helping connect them with facilities like banking, internet and transport.
The process of applying includes describing in detail how the sponsor will provide support to the refugee, where they will live and what services NGOs or government organisations can provide for them. Each member of the sponsorship group needs to make a stated financial commitment, adding to a total that’s equal to the social security provided in Canada.
To support sponsors in the undertaking, the Canadian government has set up trainings and consultation for sponsors. “The department recognises the importance of communicating effectively with private sponsors and works to engage with the community to continually improve the program and respond to the evolving needs of sponsors and refugees,” Caron said.
“As an example, in 1998 the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program was established by the department to make more information accessible to sponsors to ensure that sponsors are well prepared to meet the needs of refugees after their arrival in Canada, and to ensure their successful integration and settlement.”
The training program offers online materials and support on issues ranging from filling in forms to finding healthcare, and funds the Sponsorship Agreement Holder Association, a forum through which sponsors can communicate and support each other.
Whether sponsors or government agencies choose the refugee to be resettled depends on the model of funding. But even when sponsoring groups select an individual for resettlement, they must be approved by the government in an interview process.
During the last three years, public attention on the Syrian crisis has prompted an increase in interest in the sponsorship project. But although some 40,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Canada the majority are supported by the government rather than private sponsors.
Private sponsorship, however, has been shown to boost refugees’ prospects: in the 2014 tax year, those supported by partnerships earned an average of US$14,000 compared with $10,000 among their government sponsored counterparts.
And despite the successes of the initiative, it has run into trouble in recent years because of higher profile asylum crises. In 2017 the Canadian government quietly scaled back its targets for sponsorship of Syrian refugees for the year, capping the amount of Syrians and Iraqis that could be resettled by the sponsorship program to 1,000. Long processing times for resettlement, officials said, had resulted in a backlog of requests for sponsorship and not enough eligible refugees to fill requirements.
(Picture: Flickr / Domnic Santiago)