Canada is well known for many things – maple syrup, hockey, snow, and perhaps mostly for the kindness and politeness of its people. It should not then come as a surprise that while the world is struggling to find solutions to a growing migrant and refugee crisis, the Canadian government and people seem to have found an innovative approach to expressing their compassion and fulfilling their obligation – the private sponsorship of refugees.
The private sponsorship of refugees is not new. As a programme, it began in the late 1970s as a way to address the influx of Vietnamese boat people seeking a safe haven from the Vietnam war. It formed an integral part of the then-new Immigration Act, portions of which allowed and encouraged concerned citizens and permanent residents to sponsor refugees. This both contributed to the humanitarian solution while having the practical effect of lessening the financial burden on the government itself. The result was an increase in the number of refugees that Canada was able to accept.
Since 1979, Canada has welcomed over 225,000 refugees under this programme. In the last decade, the number of privately sponsored refugees resettled in Canada has steadily gone up. In 2013, the number of privately sponsored refugees was 6,396 while the number of government-assisted refugees was 5,790.
Under this programme, there are a few ways in which to sponsor refugees. Refugees can be sponsored by individuals in groups of five or more, in coordination with authorized sponsorship agreement holders and community groups, or through the blended visa office-referred programme. Moreover, given the current particular plight of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, as of September 19, 2015, the Government of Canada has exempted these two groups from having to provide proof of refugee status, which otherwise is a requirement for sponsorship.
The different subsets of the sponsorship programme all work quite similarly, with the sponsor(s) agreeing to give emotional and financial support to the refugee(s) for a period of one year, which is considered the full sponsorship period.
Under the Blended Visa Office-Referred programme, which was launched in 2013, there is a three way partnership created between the sponsor(s), UNHCR and the Government of Canada. The government and the sponsor(s) each provide six months of financial and support, with the sponsor(s) additionally providing up to a year of social and emotional support.
The government also funds a sponsorship-training programme in order to equip sponsors (individuals, community groups and organizations) with the necessary information and skills required to help newcomers settle in Canada.
Even so, the core of the refugee resettlement process remains the same for both government assisted and privately sponsored refugees – processing by visa offices, security and medical clearances etc. The process is by no means perfect or without its own set of difficulties and of course, critics. Still, private sponsorships allow the redistribution of some of the costs from the government to individuals and organizations willing and eager to help.
And they do want to help! It is obvious in the number of people who are willing to sponsor refugees where such programmes exist and in the privately funded rescue missions to save lives at sea in the Mediterranean.
There are a multitude of benefits of such private sponsorship of refugees and given its long history of success in Canada, such programmes could be duplicated and improved upon in other parts of the world. It is certainly a policy direction worth considering and one that will allow citizens of the world to exercise their empathy and be part of a global solution.
The world is currently in the midst of the largest refugee crisis since World War II. While profoundly heartbreaking, with any luck the crisis will prompt a renewal of the values that Canadians hold dear, and spur new outside the box thinking for potential solutions that can harness the philanthropic yen of the global population.
"I feel over the moon. I feel like it's a dream. I can't stop shaking," said 16-year-old Meyar Abdullah, who stood waiting anxiously at the Winnipeg airport for her family Monday morning.(Refuge Winnipeg, a local interfaith group, has spent one year raising more than $100,000 to help bring 24 of Abdullah's family members from Syria to Winnipeg.)
The three families, all Syrian refugees, have lived in one-room apartments in Beirut, Lebanon for several years.
"We've been waiting for so long, and it doesn't seem real," said Abdullah. "I'm just so happy and thankful to everybody that helped, everybody that donated. It's been a long time coming." [Source: CBC.ca]
More details about the private refugee sponsorship programme can be found here.