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How can you sponsor and support refugees?

posted Dec 2, 2015, 7:56 AM by A Rodney   [ updated Dec 12, 2015, 11:21 AM ]

On December 2nd, I participated in the 2nd of 3 webinars about refugee issues put on by Yosief Araya (the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program Coordinator for Catholic Crosscultural Services) titled "How Can You Sponsor Refugees and Support Them?". Here is a summary of what we learned! (A summary of the first and third webinars can be found here and here.)

Why are refugees resettled/sponsored?

  • An expression of solidarity with victims of injustice and persecution (based sometimes on religious beliefs or conviction)
  • A tool of international protection (save them from what happens in their country of origin but also in the country of asylum where they may be persecuted or face hostility again)
  • A tool of burden/responsibility sharing (helping other countries and it also opens space/opportunity for more refugees to get protection in UNHCR camps; this is strategic use of resettlement)
  • Resettlement is one of the UNHCR-championed (the UN Refugee Agency) durable solutions.

Three ways refugee’s problems are resolved:

1) Voluntary repatriation: They may return home. This doesn’t usually happen. Most are in a protracted refugee situation. Some stay for decades away from home. Most conflicts don’t get resolved quickly.

2) Local integration: In the country where they are currently. But this is dependent on that country giving them asylum. In many cases, in countries like Jordan that host large numbers of refugees, citizenship/permanent residency is not an option (they don’t have the resources for this).

3) Resettlement: Find a country that will offer permanent status to them and eventually they will become citizens of that country. Refugees are resettled where local integration possibilities do not exist (e.g., Syrian refugees in countries like Jordan that are inundated with hundreds of thousands of refugees but they don’t have the capacity to offer refuge for all of these people).


Who can sponsor refugees?

1) Sponsorship agreement holders – An incorporated organization that has signed an agreement to sponsor refugees with the government of Canada. Most are have traditionally been faith-based organizations. Also ethnic based organizations. They have signed a contract with the government and are allowed to sponsor refugees. Once you sign a contract, you will be allocated a certain number of spaces to sponsor refugees and are able to sponsor unlimited numbers. Canada has 97 SAHs now who are very active, they work with constituent groups (CGs) who have been authorized by an SAH to sponsor refugees e.g.,  the United Church of Canada has one sponsorship agreement but each church can act as a CG under the umbrella agreement. 75% of private sponsorship has been done by these SAHs.

2) Group of five – any group of Canadian residents, 5 or more citizens/permanent residents with income, living in the same geographic area. Must be able to show financial capability, no criminal record (because refugees are vulnerable groups; don’t want to expose them to people who could potentially harm them). Cannot have defaulted on previous sponsorship of refugees. Can sponsor only recognized refugees (e.g., Syrian or Iraqi refugees) – before you sponsor refugees, must make sure that UNHCR recognizes this group as refugees (or the host government). These people will have a document showing that they are certified refugees seeking asylum.

3) Community sponsor - any organization, group or corporation. Key difference between these and the group of five: they are not pre-assessed to be a sponsor. Don’t have an agreement with the government but can sponsor on an ad hoc basis. No prior agreement/screening so any organization can assessed on a case by case basis. Also can sponsor only recognized refugees (e.g., Syrian or Iraqi refugees). 

What are settlement responsibilities/challenges?

What sponsors need to provide is similar to what the government provides to most newcomers who come in under the government and go to refugee reception centres. The following must be provided for the duration of the sponsorship (12 months):

·         Reception

·         Housing

·         Financial support

·         Connecting to resources

·         Food

·         Clothing

·         Transportation

·         Childcare

·         Orientation

*211 is a free number that can be called in Toronto to ask about support services

*Sponsored refugees CANNOT access social assistance (e.g., welfare) during these 12 months

Sponsorship costs

There are varying estimated annual settlement costs depending on family size (this estimate includes monthly costs plus a start-up cost). Family size/estimated annual cost:

1: $12,600

2: $22,200

4: $27,000

6: $32,500

We should think of these as the minimum (especially for one person) that the government expects you to have but the actual costs (especially in bigger cities) will be higher). These numbers are equivalent to welfare recipients who are living on the bare minimum with meagre resources. All of the costs do not have to be in dollars. If some of the start-up costs are donated/supplemented (e.g., furniture), the financial cost goes down. 

Issues/challenges in the first year and beyond:

1. Family reunification:

o   In most cases, there are family members left behind; they are often separated because of war/conflict.

o   “Echo effects” – there may be requests to sponsor relatives or friends who were left behind.

*It’s important to note that all potential family members must be declared on the sponsorship application (even if they are in jail or separate from their family at present) or else they cannot be allowed in at a later date. 

2. Cultural Adjustment

There are 4 cultural adjustment stages:

            1) Honeymoon (positive feelings of being on the new country)

            2) Confrontation, crisis and challenge

            3) Stage of reconstruction (recovery)

            4) Adjustment.

Refugees will need more support through the second and third stages. For refugees, the first stage may last longer than other immigrants.

3. Health and RISK FACTORS

Post-migration challenges can jeopardize mental health, including:

o   Acculturation

o   Unemployment

o   Discrimination

o   Structural factors

4. Training and Employment

o   Sponsorship groups can help refugees by:

o   Supporting newcomers to improve their language, skills and knowledge

o   Connecting them with employment counsellors

o   Registering them in job search training

o   Helping them to find a job

o   Encouraging them to enroll in professional training or vocational schools

*sponsored refugees are more likely to become independent because of support from sponsors with a good settlement plan

5. Managing expectations

o   Refugees’ expectations vs: reality of sponsorship, new country (need time to acclimatize), other refugees (comparing self to others and other sponsorship groups)

o   Sponsors’ expectations vs. refugee performance, sponsorship process, interactions

*sponsors often want refugees to be quickly self-sustaining, employed, learning the language but we must manage these expectations. Groups need to accept that the refugees move elsewhere


Things for sponsorship groups to consider:

·         Empathy

·         Avoid generalizations

·         Confidentiality (e.g. about refugees’ health conditions)

·         Self-determination (independence) is a goal and may or may not be immediate.

·         Boundaries

·         Participatory approach to settlement

·         Orientation and pre-arrival communication

Other notes:

*If the refugee decides to move to another country, sponsors are no longer financially responsible for them (this is called sponsorship breakdown which is not the fault of the sponsor).

*If the refugee relocates to another province, the sponsorship agreement holder is no longer financially responsible for them (the sponsors should make an effort to find another group to help them but they are not legally bound to find a group).

*The RSTP has seen a tremendous interest in refugee sponsorship. The UNHCR awards a Nansen Refugee Award to groups/individuals that have made a significant contribution to the lives of refugees in many ways. Started in 1954. In 1986 the people of Canada received the award (it had never been given to a nation before). Maybe we can reclaim the Nansen Refugee Award (over the past few years the discourse about refugees has been very negative but maybe this is changing!)


RSTP resources

Why sponsor refugees (video)?

Refugee sponsorship and expectations (video)

Refugees, mental health and sponsorship (video)

Settlement preparation, handbook for sponsoring groups

Managing expectations, a resource kit for refugee sponsors