Friday, 9 September 2016

The benefits of private refugee sponsorship

Canada is unique in the world in having a program, the Privately Sponsored Refugee (PSR) program, wherein private citizens can form groups to sponsor and help settle refugees.  In 1986, this program won the UN’s Nansen Medal, the only time a whole country has been recognized by this refugee-focused award.  

Based on Canadian immigration department studies, refugees settled through the PSR model have much better long term outcomes than those who are settled by Government agencies.  For example, when compared to Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) after a year or two, PSRs have higher levels of English proficiency, are more likely to be working and at higher wage levels, are less likely to be relying on government agencies or financial support, report greater connection to their community and to the country and are less likely to return to their previous home country. 

There are a number of other very important direct and indirect benefits of the PSR model for settling refugees versus the more common Government-agency settlement model.  To begin with, since PSR’s are largely or wholly paid for out of private donations, this refugee settlement program is much more cost effective, from a Canadian taxpayer point of view.  Furthermore, for the private citizens who are involved, it is a real participatory, community-building experience which helps foster neighborhood relationships, enable cross-cultural understanding, build grass-roots support for refugee issues, increase appreciation for our communities and our country, and enhance citizens’ awareness of the challenges faced by the lower-income segments in our society.

Despite its many documented benefits versus the GAR model for settling refugees, government support for the PSR model has been modest, to say the least, over the last 40 years and it remains an under-promoted and underfunded program.   The general public’s interest and participation in the program has undergone enormous volatility over the years.  There was a major peak in 1979 / 1980 as a response to the so-called Vietnamese Boat-People crisis.   Then, after a long period of relatively low volumes with the exception of a spike during the Bosnian war, interest in the program has once again dramatically risen during the last 12 months as a result of the Syrian Crisis.  Outside of these 3 peak periods, participation in this program has been narrowly focused in faith communities or ethnic organizations rather than having a broader involvement from Canadian society as a whole.

It is also important to note that although PSR groups are executing on an important, sensitive, and complex project, that of settling and integrating into our communities vulnerable and, in some cases, traumatized people from widely different backgrounds, the Canadians who undertake these projects do so with little or no support, training, experience or qualifications.  The lack of advocates or centralized comprehensive resource supports for PSR groups leads them to feel like they are ‘going it alone’, ‘making it up as they go along’ and ‘reinventing the wheel’ in their efforts to settle refugees. 

By Andrew FitzGerald. This post has also been published on the Canada4Refugees blog. 

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