Community Sponsorship Programs as a Pathway to Resettlement

Community Sponsorship Programs as a Pathway to Resettlement

Community sponsorship programs engage individuals, community groups, and companies to directly contribute to refugee protection through direct sponsorship of refugees into their community. These programs have the potential to significantly increase resettlement places for vulnerable refugees while simultaneously acting as a powerful solution to reshape the narrative surrounding the resettlement of refugees and strengthen host communities.

Canada Leads the Way

Canada’s success with community-based sponsorship programs for refugees demonstrates how meaningful bonds between residents in the host community and new refugee arrivals can strengthen the host community as a whole and improve attitudes towards refugees and resettlement. Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program began in 1978 and has seen the resettlement of 300,000 privately-sponsored refugees, including at least 13,000 Syrian refugees. The support and funding for refugees being resettled is from private or joint government-private sponsorship. The PSR program allowed for Canadian citizens and permanent residents to engage in the resettlement of refugees from abroad, completely changing the way Canadians engage in the refugee resettlement process. Canadians can sponsor individuals who have refugee status, authorized by the UNHCR, as Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH), who are incorporated organizations that have signed a formal sponsorship agreement with IRCC, Groups of Five (G5), five or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents, or Community Sponsors (CSs), any organization, association or corporation located in the community where the refugees are expected to settle can make an organizational commitment to sponsor.

As a response to the growing number of refugees seeking resettlement in 2015, the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI) was announced in New York City in conjunction with the UN and US Refugee Summits, and was formally launched in Ottawa, Canada in December 2016. The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative’s goal is to assist and inspire countries around the world to open new pathways for refugee protection. Canada’s flagship private sponsorship of refugees program provides a valuable roadmap for how communities can engage with their government to support refugee resettlement.

This engagement from the communities in Canada has proven to have a positive impact on early integration of refugees into their host community, and led to encouraging settlement outcomes which improve the narrative surrounding refugees. Despite the success of the Canadian program, there is a global lack of community sponsorship programs. Canada’s guide to the private sponsorship of refugees can be used as a resource for other countries to help design and implement community sponsorship programs that will be effective in a local context.

Creating More Community Sponsorship Programs

Community sponsorship programs began to gain traction in Europe in response to the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, leading to more than 30,000 people entering the EU under private sponsorship between 2013 and 2018, and over three quarters of them were admitted by Germany. More community sponsorship programs were designed in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Argentina and several European countries.

As a member of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI), the UNHCR has been working since 2017 to promote and develop community sponsorship in a number of countries including Ireland. Community Sponsorship (CS) in Ireland was first piloted in December 2018 with the arrival of a Syrian family to Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath. It is expected that up to 50 refugees will arrive in Ireland during the pilot phase of Community Sponsorship lasting through October 2019. The program provides sanctuary to people fleeing war and persecution and will strengthen Ireland’s response to the global refugee crisis. Sponsors commit to providing financial and emotional support to refugees upon their arrival, and serve as a resource as they settle into the community. The host community aids refugees seeking resettlement by assisting with the development of language skills, as well as sharing the knowledge of Irish history and culture.

A Hopeful Response to Expanding Refugee Pathways

Community sponsorship programs remain a valuable pathway which can lead to the expansion of resettlement places for refugees. These programs serve as an opportunity for safe and legal resettlement for refugees, as well as promote the inclusion of refugees within their host community, which is a vital step in the resettlement process. Refugee Pathways calls on more countries to create community sponsorship programs in order to fulfill the needs of resettlement.

Emily Ervin, Refugee Pathways