27 June 2014

A roundtable on the Canadian model of private sponsorship of refugees was jointly organised by the Mission of Canada, ECRE and the UNHCR in Brussels on 19 June. The roundtable brought together representatives from Canada, EU Member States, NGOs and international organisations, and discussed the functioning and potential of such schemes as complementary to resettlement programmes in Europe.

Representatives from the Canadian government and the Canadian NGO Mennonite Central Committee explained the structure, complementarity and challenges of the Canadian resettlement and humanitarian public policy streams, which include government-led resettlement, private sponsorships and blended forms combining the two.

Through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees programme, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can enable refugees to build a new life in Canada. Sponsoring groups agree to provide the refugees with care, lodging, settlement assistance and support for the duration of the sponsorship period, which is normally, 12 months or until the refugee becomes self-sufficient. Having its origins as a response to emergencies, currently the Canadian private sponsorship model primarily responds to the situation of refugees in protracted situations with no other solutions in sight. The annual number of privately sponsored refugees coming to Canada nowadays almost equals the government programme beneficiaries (roughly, around 7,000 each). The process of identification, processing and settlement is framed within certain standards to ensure that capacities are there and the sponsoring is viable. At the same time, the sponsorship schemes also face management challenges with often long backlogs.

Reflecting on the possibilities for similar programmes in Europe, the potential use of  complementary tools to increase the number of resettled refugees from Syria was often mentioned. Both states and NGOs agreed that private sponsorship of refugees should be in addition to a government programme, recognizing this as a key motivating factor for sponsors. Such schemes could offer diaspora communities an alternative to the use of smugglers to get members of their community to Europe.

Existing challenges to resettlement, including practical issues like housing shortages, also raise questions with regards to private sponsorship. There was strong interest among participants to follow up this reflection with further meetings and discussions with UNHCR in the course of this year.  

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 27 June 2014.
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