Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Refugee debate ignores Canada's unflattering historical experience

With the recent increase in refugee claimants crossing unannounced into our country from the U.S., Canada’s approach to refugees is once again being hotly debated.

While there is a commonly held view amongst Canadians that we have been, and continue to be, a very welcoming country when it comes to refugees and other immigrants, the reality is that over the last 150 years nearly every large wave of immigration has faced significant resistance. And, in pretty much every case, the arguments against allowing in whichever group it is at the time have largely been the same.

Our lack of historical memory concerning our often-conflicted attitude toward immigration prevents us from learning from the past and leads us to keep repeating the same tired debate over and over again.

When a boatload of desperate Tamils arrived off of Vancouver’s shores in 2010, the Harper government declared it a national emergency, recalled parliament from summer recess, passed new laws and argued that the 400 or so bedraggled people posed a significant threat to our security.

Canada had virtually the same reaction in 1939 when a boatload of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution on the MS St. Louis tried unsuccessfully to land in Nova Scotia, and in 1914 when the Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver waters carrying Sikhs.

Sikhs on-board the Komagata Maru
Like many Canadians, I have always been proud of the role that Canada played in providing sanctuary to African Americans fleeing slavery via the Underground Railway. However, at the time, many of our ancestors viewed the fleeing slaves as “illegals” who, because they were not properly screened, represented a potential security threat and integration challenge. Sound familiar?

Exactly the same arguments are now being used against the few hundred poor souls that are currently crossing our borders each month fleeing persecution in the hope of finding a better life.

What is interesting is that over the years, the reasons cited by those opposed to each major wave of immigration and refugee resettlement have almost always been the same. They have argued that immigration from this particular group should be minimized because these people have a different culture, a different system of values and beliefs; that they won’t be able to integrate; that they will be a drag on our economic resources; that there are too many and as a result that they will swamp our society and change our national identity. That they are a security threat.

In the early 1900s immigration from China was resisted since there was a fear that numerically they would swamp us and that our security was threatened by the Asian diseases they would bring with them.

Chinese labourers detraining camp, Petawawa, ON.Credit: Meredith, C.P./Library and Archives Canada
From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s there was considerable hostility to Irish Catholic immigration. For many, the Irish represented an undesirable cultural group whose allegiance was more to Rome and the Catholic Church than to Canadian laws and values.

Leading up to and during the Second World War practically no Jewish refugees were allowed into the country because, it was argued, they had different religious and cultural beliefs and practices, which would make it hard for them to integrate. And once again, the security concerns were raised — how could we be sure that no German agents were hiding amongst the valid Jewish refugees, ready to attack our country once they were resettled into Canada?

Given that the same alarmist, anti-newcomer arguments have proven, in every case, to be invalid over the last 150 years, perhaps it’s time that we acknowledge there is nothing to fear from these waves of immigration. Instead, let’s recognize that, as in the past, each new wave does in fact end up integrating into our society and contributing to making this country the vital, culturally rich and economically strong mosaic that it is.

Canadians should have greater faith in the overarching strength and resilience of our Canadian identity and the universal appeal of our values when concerns about newcomer integration are raised. We have a wealth of historical experience to show that this faith would be well-founded.


This opinion article by RRP chair Andrew FitzGerald was first published in the Toronto Star, May 16, 2017


Friday, 5 May 2017

Lessons Learned: Post-Settlement (Self) Evaluation

As our group is in the process of sponsoring additional refugees to come to Canada and we will be assisting these future newcomers in their settlement process, we wanted to learn as much as possible from our first settlement so that we can improve our effectiveness as time goes on. 

A number of people have expressed interest in learning more about the evaluation process we undertook, and the specific questions we asked, so we wanted to share this information in our blog.

The evaluation process was undertaken as we moved into the 13th month, once the formal sponsorship period of 12 months had been completed. The first survey was conducted on a one-on-one basis between the individual members of the newcomer family and an Arabic speaking volunteer, without any of our sponsorship team members being present. The questions were provided ahead of time, in Arabic, and the family members were encouraged to be as critical as possible so that we could learn from their feedback. Some key takeaways from their feedback are included below the questionnaire.

The second questionnaire was completed on an anonymous basis via Survey Monkey with members of the sponsorship team. The results were then discussed and distilled down into the most important learning points for our group members to consider. A few selected examples of our feedback are included below.

The third part of the evaluation, not included here, was an open and frank discussion with each of the newcomers, individually, with a close and trusted member of the settlement team and an Arabic interpreter. The aim of that discussion was to highlight things that the settlement team felt that the particular newcomer still needed to focus on, or opportunities they should take advantage of, or concerns that we had regarding their particular situation.
 
Some of the major areas of feedback from the family were:
  • More regular English language work with different members of the settlement team would have been appreciated. Having a regular English “class” in their apartment was very important to them and we should have been doing it more often and continue to do it into the second year.
  • Similarly, more support for the job search, including during the second year when they would be more prepared to look for work, would be appreciated 
  • They would have appreciated more advice regarding where to conduct their shopping, where to find the best bargains and how to use the Toronto public transport. [Although we did cover this it appears we did not do it as comprehensively as we should have] 
  • There was also feedback that they remained uncertain about how certain things, such as making dental appointments, should be executed on, which we had thought had been clearly communicated already. 

As a result of their feedback, our group has decided that in the future, with our next sponsorships, we will conduct a formal monthly review to ensure that we don’t take anything for granted and we ensure that no issues or unmet needs are left unaddressed as the settlement proceeds.


Highlights of feedback from members of the sponsorship group


Q2: What could we do better (Pre-arrival and/or post arrival)?
  • Clearer division of responsibilities post-arrival 
  • Pair up each family member with an RRP member for outings, English lessons etc. No need to always involve the whole family. 
  • Encourage family members to take on part time jobs early on 
  • Consider location closer to subway, not in Arabic environment 
  • Focus on different ways to improve their English (outside of ESL classes) 
  • Manage expectations of family for month 13 

Q3: How effective was the communication between our group and the newcomers? What improvements in this area should we consider?
  • Understand role and responsibility of volunteer vs professional interpreters 
  • Draw on a bigger pool of interpreters 
  • Email not a good communication method but other communication means such as text messages, What’sApp, Facebook messenger worked well 
  • Regular, formal check-ins with family with different group members to discuss progress, concerns 
  • Spend more time with the family post-arrival to clarify mutual expectations, roles and responsibilities 

Q4: What specific actions or approaches could we have done better to promote self-sufficiency and empower the newcomers?
  • Encourage them to take on part-time employment 
  • Encourage them to take on volunteer positions 
  • Be more active in English-language support for the family 
  • Earlier start of employment discussion, preparation of CV 
  • Manage expectations for month 13 

Q6: In terms of the RRP group overall, considering how we might be able to work more effectively, and in terms of our long-term future, do you have any suggestions regarding changes we should make in any of the following areas? Direction, Goals, Processes; Governance; Membership; Task-definition and assignments; Meetings; Decision-making process; Advocacy; Other
  • Defining governance, including membership guidelines/ how decisions are made. Clarifying vision and mission. 
  • We should re-visit team member roles, accountabilities and expectations of ourselves and of each other 
  • We should continue to support advocacy efforts on behalf of the private sponsorship model in general and its application to the Syrian refugee backlog in particular. 
  • Develop mechanisms to ensure engagement of members, to exclude members if needed, to bring in new members 
  • Take and circulate minutes at each meeting 
  • Continue meetings, perhaps on a more regular basis 
  • Clear delineation of roles and responsibilities of members 

Q7: Personal reflections - Please provide your thoughts on any of the following questions: What did you learn personally, what was most meaningful, memorable, about this experience?
  • It has been a wonderful personal experience both as part of the RRP itself and in getting to know the newcomers. I definitely feel like I have gained a lot more than I have given. Being a member of the group has connected me with terrific individuals that I might not have known otherwise. Our discussions have been sometimes difficult but it has felt like we have really worked as a team to arrive at decisions. And in a crazy world that seems to be getting crazier, it has felt empowering for our group to make a difference in the lives of these 8 people. 
  • The most memorable was the pick up on day on, and the small day to day interactions and light moments and I really enjoyed our Ripple team meetings 
  • I found it personally satisfying to assist the family to settle in Canada after the trauma they must have experienced over the past few years both inside and outside Syria. It's only one family from among millions of displaced Syrian refugees but what a difference our team has made in the lives of every member of the family. Our medical team members have been truly outstanding. 
  • Seeing the family so grateful to be here in a free country, and being received so warmly was a true pleasure. 
  • On the whole, this has been a really positive experience for me personally as I feel I have connected in a meaningful way with people with shared values. It has been an honour to tangibly assist with settling a vulnerable newcomer family. This journey has been an impetus for becoming involved with an advocacy organization and to learn about the problems with the Canadian Immigration system and to explore possible solutions. 
  • This has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life and a real honour to work with such a great group of people. Has given me a lot to think about in terms of empowerment, interpersonal relationships, cultural issues, volunteering
  • Very glad to be involved, regretful that did not have more time to make myself available. Regretful also that I did not manage to make a meaningful personal connection with them. 
  • The most meaningful part has been to enable two families to have a new life, and a better hope for the future. Also, it is very special to feel part of a group, of a bigger community, and taking a small step into making the world a slightly better place. Doing something concrete to help instead of just complaining. The most memorable moments were the arrival of the family and the many beautiful moments we spend with them socially. The whole year was one big learning experience as everything we did was completely new to me. I am proud that we were able to weather many of the challenges that arose, and stuck together as a group, without a lot of conflict and disagreement. One disappointment was that a number of people in the group simply disappeared or were disengaged, especially when the going got tough, or just came to group meetings without engaging with the family. 
  • The friendship with people so very different from me in customs and values has been heart warming. On the other hand, I have come away with a renewed appreciation of the importance of making a contribution to others for both my own and the refugees mental health. Overall, I think that the joy of self sufficiency, contribution to the welfare of others and social participation is a right we need to help the newcomers to access. I am learning about the range of groups in Syrian society and their associated attitudes, and wonder whether the government could better help those on the list to come here to manage their expectations and to understand what will be expected of them in turn. 
  •  It was wonderful to be part of a team that helps to provide a safe haven and a new start for people in real distress. I learned that the barriers are larger than I had expected. 


Template for our self-evaluation, and for the newcomer’s evaluation of our work (in English and Arabic).

By Andrew FitzGerald

Thursday, 15 December 2016

What it means to be a permanent resident in a country for the first time in my life

Amr Al-Faham, his wife Rasha and their 5-months old son Kareem arrived in Toronto from Turkey on December 6, 2016 - the second family sponsored by the Ripple Refugee Project. He describes what it means for him to be a permanent resident in a country for the first time in his life.


It’s been a week and I am still in the denial phase that I am here, in famous Toronto. But more importantly, I am here with a legal status that allows me to become a citizen in a specific number of years. This means that there will be no more queuing and pushing and being pushed for hours in the crowded residency permit offices in all the countries I lived in. No more running back and forth for days to renew my residency and repeat this process every single year. No more bribing and faking a smile to the officers so they can facilitate my residency permit without complications. More importantly, no more fear of the future and feeling vulnerable every time a major incident happens in a country I live in.  

I still cannot believe that on arrival, and with a two-hour process, I was provided with documents that will help change my life for the better and for the rest of my life. I am a permanent resident in a country that I come to for the first time in my life.

In the thirties of the last century, my grandfather opened the fifth modern pharmacy in Damascus, and went to Iraq to open one of the first pharmacies in an Iraqi city. This is where he got the opportunity to get the citizenship of the back-then new-born kingdom of Iraq. He kept the Iraqi citizenship believing that Iraq will be one of the best countries in the world as it has oil and agriculture and an old civilization with a rooted culture of education and production, and he dropped or neglected the Syrian nationality.

After spending most of his life moving between Iraq and Syria, he decided to settle in his city of birth, Damascus, with his daughters and sons but he left us; his grandchildren, the legacy of Iraqi nationality.

So I was born in Damascus, Syria but with an Iraqi citizenship. And ever since, I had to renew my residency every year. My father had to renew my residency for me when I was a child and I still remember how difficult it was as the diplomatic ties were cut and borders were sealed between Damascus and Baghdad for over 22 years. My father had to know key people in the Syrian ruling Baath Party so he could succeed in keeping his and our residency going, and each year he had to make the phone calls. When I grew up I started to take his role and visit the residency offices but still my father had to make the phone calls and the prearrangements with his connections.

Things kept going this way until 2003 when the Americans invaded Iraq and millions of Iraqi refugees flooded Syria. In a few months, I turned into “just another Iraqi” in Syria and the government did not distinguish between my case and the newcomers’ cases. My father’s connections became old and left their positions and thus became useless, and the Syrian government had asked me to head to the “Bureau of Immigration and Passports” to be issued a residency permit. I still remember the first time I went there; I had to queue for seven hours in a very crowded and loud room. While queuing, the person behind me advised me to put a bribe of 500 Syrian pounds in my passport (which was worth USD10 back then) and hand it over to the officer when I reach his desk. And yes, everyone was doing the same. Collecting the residency permit was another painful process where people would crowd and push each other and shout while collecting their stamped documents.

In the following years the residency renewal became much easier - not because the Syrian government had improved it, but because my elder brother figured out a new magical way; he would enter the Bureau with a fat wallet and start distributing Syrian pounds notes here and there. Once, he asked me to accompany him and I was astonished as he looked like he was entering a bellydance night club where all the officers were saluting him while receiving the notes and slipping them in their pockets and desk drawers.


In 2013, two years after the demonstrations started and developed into a war, the Syrian regime was torturing and/or killing all the activists. Being one myself, I had to flee Syria to what was supposed to be my country: Iraq. I left to Iraqi Kurdistan to the city of Suleimani (Assulaimaniyya). Being classified as an Arab in their eyes, the Suleimani Kurdish local authorities issued me a yearly residence permit after a long interrogation process, asking me unfamiliar questions such as “what is your race? What is the name of your clan? Are you Turkmen but pretending to be an Arab?”
I was alright with that as long as I received a legal status, but it was surprising to me that I had to have a residency permit issued in my own country of citizenship. The more surprising fact was when I was traveling from Suleimani to the other Kurdish city of Erbil to meet my brother who had just moved there. The Kurdish Assaiish (Police) had sat up a big checkpoint at the city’s entrance, and the first time I was passing there, they stopped me and asked for my residency card, saying that my Suleimani card was not valid in Erbil because I was an “Arab” in their eyes. I was asked to proceed with the Erbil residency permit in order to be able to enter the city. Of course Turkish and European citizens did not require this permission; it was only the citizens of Iraq from another race.

On the second trip to Erbil I met Rasha, whom I fell in love with, and decided to travel to Erbil every second week to see her. But this meant that I had to cross the Erbil check point with an entry permission card every time I wanted to see her. The Erbil entry permission issuing process took between an hour to four hours. The process starts when the Assaiich member discovers that there is an Arab in the car and he would scream to his colleagues: ”Here is another Arab!” I then would be asked to go to a large fenced open area with no chairs or trees and queue, sometimes push and be pushed, and fight until I got this permit card. I had to wait in the heat of 45 degrees summers, and in the cold of -1 degrees winters, I have seen old men crying, and sick people begging the officers so they can enter the city to receive treatment.


The Erbil checkpoint became much more crowded after ISIS invaded Mosul and a big wave of Mosul’s residents fled to Iraqi Kurdistan. But across the two years I stayed in the Kurdish region, I have lied to the officers, played tricks with them and faked the dates of old permit cards so I could access Erbil and meet my love.

In late 2014 I moved to Turkey with Rasha whom I married later, and for the first time in my life I did not have to bribe or call connections or key people in order to get a residency permit. Everything was clear and the process was relatively easy. But I still have renewed my residency two times, as I had to renew it on a yearly basis. I had this sense of insecurity and of the “what if”: what if the Turkish government changed the rules of treating the Syrian refugees, what if I was not allowed to renew my residency for any reason? Where would I go as I cannot go home? What will happen to me?

In July 2016, the Turkey coup attempt has raised the same fears and the same “what if” questions I always had. My newborn son was in the incubator in a faraway child hospital, and we did not know what will happen to us if the coup had succeeded. 

So here I am in Toronto at my Canadian sponsors' family house, with a document that will last for years and with a clear status that will save and protect my rights as a normal human being who doesn’t have to bribe, use dodgy connections, explain whether he is Arab or Kurd, state his religion or swear to the officers that all he said was true. On the other hand, the sponsoring group is offering us with all possible ways of support; introducing us to basic knowledge of our new home country and offering us all sort of help and support. To be honest, this is too good to be true and I am still living in the denial phase.   





Wednesday, 14 December 2016

It's a girl!


What an exciting end of the (sponsorship) year: On December 13 the Abdallahs welcomed their newest family member! Little Scham was born in a Toronto hospital, and is the first Canadian citizen in the family. The baby and mum Sawsan are both doing well, and Aya and Reemas are excited to have a baby sister.

A few days before, the family talked to the CBC's The Current about their first year in Canada, and what lies ahead. There are some worries about what comes after the sponsorship ends, but Sawsan says she feels optimistic. "I feel this is home. I feel this is my country". The interview was aired today. 








Thursday, 24 November 2016

A message to our donors

The members of the Ripple Refugee Project wanted to provide all of you, our generous donors, with an update on the Abdallah family, who arrived from Syria to Canada last December, and regarding other sponsorships and initiatives undertaken by the Ripple Refugee Group.

The Abdallahs are settling well into their new life here in Toronto.  All the family members are working hard to develop their English language skills which is a priority in order to provide them with a solid foundation for their new life. The two youngest family members, who are 6 and 8, are already pretty much fluent while the adults are making great progress. Now with the 12th-month anniversary approaching, attention is turning to finding work so that they can support themselves going forward.

Baby shower for the soon-to-arrive newest family member

IT TAKES A VILLAGE
:  We have had tremendous support in settling this family into their new life from so many different organizations and individuals and we want to thank everyone who has been involved.  While there are too many to mention, we want to highlight the support from the University Health Network (UHN), the Arab Community Centre of Toronto (ACCT), Access Alliance, Dentists, Sunnybrook Hospital, Ryerson University, Lifeline Syria, the many volunteer Arabic-speaking interpreters and members of that community, and from a wide range of other people in the extended Toronto community.

And of course, our refugee sponsorships would not be possible without all of your generous donations - THANK YOU!

UPCOMING ARRIVALS - We are looking forward to welcoming a family of 3 before Christmas, who are arriving from Syria via Turkey with a new born baby in tow.  We also have an application for another family of 3 and for a single young man who is related to the Abdallahs, who should all be here hopefully by mid 2017. The Ripple group plans to continue sponsoring refugees over the coming years - it has been such a rewarding and transformative experience for all of us.

As Ryerson Lifeline Syria has stopped accepting donations for all their sponsorship teams, which we are one of, we will be working with another organization to continue our funding efforts in order to support the sponsorship of more refugee families in the future - Please stand by for an update regarding this new donation channel. 

ON-GOING ADVOCACY AND SUPPORT EFFORTS - From the beginning, an important goal of the Ripple Refugee Project was to advocate to the government and public for the value and importance of the Private Sponsorship model, to encourage people to get involved and to support other private sponsorship groups in whatever way we can. Below are some more recent examples of our efforts in this area:

- We continue to meet with other private sponsorship groups to provide guidance in their efforts

Canada4Refugees.org:  3 of our members were co-founders of the Canada4Refugees group which formed last May in order to advocate for and provide support to the citizen-led refugee resettlement model and initiatives.    

- Advocacy through the media in order to build domestic and international support for Syrian refugee initiatives, the private sponsorship model and to encourage people to get involved: 

a) Our newcomer family was recently featured on BBC International Radio and TV broadcasts (click here to view the heartwarming TV story) which also shows an amazing surprise reunion between the BBC reporter, Lyse Ducet and a Syrian family that was last seen in dire circumstances in Damascus.

b) The family and the Ripple Refugee Project group were also featured in the Globe and Mail (Click Here) 

c) On Dutch TV (starts at minute:17:23) (Click Here).

d) Al Jazeera's TV show, "The Stream" (Click Here), featured The Ripple Refugee Project in its episode on private citizens helping Syrian Refugeesple Refugee Project. 

WISHING YOU ALL THE BEST FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

MANY THANKS AGAIN FOR YOUR SUPPORT



Sunday, 13 November 2016

A few things we have learned in the first year

It has been almost one year since the Syrian family of eight we are sponsoring has arrived in Toronto. As we are waiting for a second family to arrive, it’s time to take stock. It has been an extremely eventful, rewarding, but also challenging year.  Here are some of the lessons we have learned.*

It’s a life-changing experience

Although the past year has at times been challenging and frustrating, by and large the sponsorship has been one of the most rewarding experiences many of us have ever had. We have not only gained the friendship of a Syrian newcomer family, but we have also grown together as a group and felt part of a larger community, of something bigger than ourselves. While sponsoring a family is a small act in the big scheme of things, it has completely transformed not only this family’s, but also our lives in more ways than we could have imagined.

It’s a big commitment

Several times it hit us what a big commitment we had taken on. All of a sudden we were responsible for eight complete strangers who did not speak a word of English, had never traveled anywhere besides Syria and Lebanon and did not know how things worked in Canada. It was very daunting - almost like adopting a child. Especially at the beginning, settling in the family was very time-consuming and quite challenging because we did not speak each other’s language. The commitment does not stop once the family has moved into an apartment, has all their documents and is enrolled in English lessons. Not only does the practical support continue, but it becomes increasingly an emotional commitment, one that does not stop once the sponsorship year is over. Several of us have formed strong ties with the family, and we hope that the sponsorship relationship will turn into a lasting friendship.  

The family invited us to an Iftar meal during their first Ramadan in Canada

It takes a village

We are very fortunate that the members of our group have a wide range of professional backgrounds - such as health, education and human resources - which made dividing and tackling the multitude of tasks of the settlement process a lot easier. But it was much more than our group that helped settle in the family. Several dentists have provided their services for free. A family we did not previously know, offered temporary housing.  Several community groups collected goods and clothes for newcomers. Within hours of sending a request to our networks, a complete set of baby items – from a stroller to a crib – had been donated for the soon-to-arrive newest member of the family. Ryerson students mentored one of the sons of the family who wants to study here. Several organizations, such as the Arab community center, have given us invaluable support when needed. This amazing outpouring of help from many Canadians has been one of the most positive experiences during our sponsorship year.

Manage expectations

Before we took on the sponsorship, an experienced private sponsor gave us an important piece of advice that helped us manage expectations from the outset: It’s important to remember that the sponsors’ primary job is to settle in refugees as best as they can. If they become friends with the newcomers, that’s an added bonus, but don’t be disappointed if this does not happen, or if you don’t get along. (Luckily for us, we got on really well with the family from day one).
We also realized that a number of our expectations for settling in a newcomer family are driven by our cultural, social and educational background and bias – such as that women should be looking for work. It is important to communicate openly, to recognize cultural and social differences and adjust expectations.

An outing with the family to Niagara Falls

Don’t be scared of making mistakes

None of our group members had a lot of experience with Arab culture and a few mistakes were made. During one of our first visits to the family, for example, I kissed both the women and the men on the cheeks, suddenly realizing that this was probably a complete cultural faux pas. The family was completely unfazed, however, and has always been very forgiving and tolerant of our ignorance. Despite our cultural and social differences, we share a common humanity and emotional bond, and we found that it’s better to jump right in and make a few mistakes than being too shy and scared to interact with newcomers from a different culture with limited knowledge of English.

Don’t infantilize

Because the family we are sponsoring did initially not speak any English and did not know their way around, we took on a large number of jobs at the beginning – booking doctor and other appointments, for example, picking them up and driving them around, sometimes making decisions on their behalf. It is a fine line between helping people settle in and infantilizing them, making them dependent on our support. This goes both ways – the family often continued to ask for support even when we felt they could take on the task themselves. It is not always easy to figure out the right balance.


Being in Canada does not mean being happy ever after

Some people may expect that refugees’ problems are over once they reach Canada, where they are safe and have a roof over their heads. But while they are physically here – and grateful for the warm welcome they have received in Canada - their minds are often still back home. Gruesome images and news reports from the war in Syria are continuously coming in on various electronic devices. There is a constant stream of calls and messages from loved ones who are still in Syria or are refugees in neighbouring countries. The constant worry, and the guilt of being here and not being able to help, can be overwhelming, and makes settling in more difficult. Many sponsorship groups will face the challenge of being asked to sponsor additional family members.

Don’t let setbacks get you down

As with many things in life, sponsoring a refugee family is not always smooth sailing. There are many ups but also quite a few downs - unexpected challenges and frustrations.  It is important to accept that setbacks are normal - it does not mean that the settlement is unsuccessful.

Some of the Ripple Refugee group members at a meeting

Have a strong core group

While our group is relatively big, only a handful of people are actively engaged on a regular basis. Some members are traveling a lot, others are busy with work and family and only sporadically interact with our sponsored family. It is vital to have a strong leader and a small group of committed, hands-on members who continuously give the sponsored family not only practical, but also emotional support throughout the year. Before deciding to sponsor refugees, groups should discuss very clearly if members are around throughout the year, and are willing to be involved on a regular basis. Less engaged members can support the settlement activities on an ad hoc basis.

Do your homework

When we decided to sponsor refugees there were not many resources available. This has changed, and I would highly recommend to anyone thinking about sponsorship to either do a training with the Refugee SponsorshipTraining Program , or read one of the resources that are available, such as the Lifeline Syria sponsorship handbook.




*These personal reflections were written by RRP member Claudia Blume and don’t necessarily reflect the views of all members of the group

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.