December 25, 2016 10:00 am

Why Canada’s private sponsorship refugee system is a model for the world: expert

WATCH ABOVE: Two experts join Tom Clark on The West Block to explain why the world is coming to Canada to learn about how to successfully resettle refugees.


Canada’s private sponsorship model for refugees has been gaining attention and praise, the latest coming from an advisor to the United Nations who is also the senior European policy fellow with the Migration Policy Institute.

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“Absolutely,” Gregory Maniatis said when asked if Canada has the best practice in the world. “And it’s unique in the world … there’s no place else that does it at the level of Canada, in terms of the scale of it, nor the quality.”

This past fall, more than a dozen countries – including the United Kingdom and United States – made inquiries about the private sponsorship system in hopes of emulating it.

READ MORE: Syrian refugees in Saskatoon fear for family still living in Aleppo

Canada deployed the unique system during the Syrian refugee crisis, tapping into the private sector to play a bigger role in helping resettle the influx of newcomers.

The Canadian program allows private citizens to sponsor a refugee for $12,600, which includes help with income and initial costs like groceries and rent. Nearly half the Syrian refugees Canada brought in starting late last year entered through private or quasi-private initiatives.

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The provision for private citizens to offer help not only provides a vehicle for tapping into communities, but also allows for individual Canadians to feel and be engaged, said Jennifer Bond, chair of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative and a professor at the University of Ottawa.

READ MORE: Half of adult Syrian refugees unemployed 1 year later, Liberals say

“That’s the part that is so exciting and so important about what we do,” she said.

Earlier this month, Bond’s organization hosted a three-day event in Ottawa for international delegates, sponsorship groups and government officials interested in Canada’s resettlement program.

But the idea would never be to transplant a carbon copy to another country since each jurisdiction has unique circumstances, Bond said.

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“But the underlying core, how to mobilize communities, how to get them engaged and tap into that compassion within all of us is really what Canada has figured out how to do very well.”

One area of private sponsorship Canada is still working on is the best ways to support sponsors, Bond said.

“It’s not always easy [for sponsors],” she said. “Some days are very difficult and we do have to support sponsors, to make sponsors feel as though this is not something they are doing alone, that there’s a whole community.”

READ MORE: Childcare, language training lacking, but ‘key’ to Syrian integration: Senate report

As countries look to Canada for pointers, an issue the global community will have to overcome is a sense of fatigue with accepting and assisting refugees – though that’s not the case in Canada, Maniatis said.

“I think in Germany, you had over a million newcomers over the past two years and that is hard to deal with,” he said. “But let me point to something about Canada which is so interesting. You have a problem here now in the number of sponsors who want refugees.”

Given the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS and the continuing carnage in Syria, the number of people seeking a new life in the West is only expected to grow – as will pressure on Western governments and societies to welcome more refugees.

One consequence of this need already witnessed is the rise of nationalist right wing movements, an Oxford fellow and scholar on forced migration and international relations, Alexander Betts, has said.

The politics in Europe have shifted with the rise of, for example, the far right Alternative for Germany, the successful Brexit vote in the UK, a fascist contender for the presidency in Austria, and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s pro-nationalist campaign.

The fact the demand for refugees from private citizens exceeds the supply in Canada, Maniatis said, is “crucial insight” into understanding the success of Canada’s program.

READ MORE: Aleppo evacuations resume as Syrian government regains control of city

“It meets the needs not only of refugees, but also of communities,” he said. “It allows communities to come together around a shared common purpose and give meaning to people’s lives in a way that they may not otherwise have it.”

Canada’s program is decades old, arriving with little fanfare in 1976, embedded in a little-noticed provision of the landmark Immigration Act.

Newspaper articles of the day didn’t mention the clause, focusing instead on major reforms like imposing annual quotas and the modern points system, and deleting outdated language banning “idiots, imbeciles and morons” and ending limits on epileptics.

“There’s no doubt about it, it is a world leading program,” Maniatis said. “There is a lot of room always to improve any program, but I think that Canada is on the absolute right track, has a lot of experience and we can see that with the enthusiasm of the countries who’ve shown up here to learn from Canada.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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