1.C Overarching Principles and Policies
Why is this important?
Overarching principles and policy issues have a direct impact on the design and ultimate operationalization of a community sponsorship program.
Policymakers may need to consider:
- PROTECTION: Refugees often flee countries where their physical security is at risk and basic human rights are not upheld. International instruments such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and human rights treaties recognize that refugees are vulnerable and that their safety and well-being should be prioritized over other immigration imperatives. Making protection a purpose and outcome of community sponsorship requires programs to make no distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class, or political opinion, and to be ultimately guided by the protection needs of the refugees concerned. Canada explicitly recognizes protection as a cornerstone of its refugee policy, stating in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that the main objective of its refugee program is protecting and saving the lives of displaced and persecuted people around the world. This language signals a prioritization of refugee protection over immigration imperatives such as refugees’ ability to establish, meeting financial thresholds, and not posing a burden on Canada’s health system.
- DURABLE SOLUTIONS: Finding durable solutions for refugees is a key principle of refugee policy. The ultimate goal of the international protection regime is finding protection and solutions for refugees that allow them to live their lives in dignity and peace. Resettlement is one of the several solutions facilitated by UNHCR, along with voluntary repatriation and local integration. However, according to UNHCR, there are only resettlement spots available for less than one percent of the more than twenty million refugees worldwide. These spots are prioritized for the most vulnerable – e.g. those with serious illnesses, children, women without adequate protection, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer refugees. Durable solutions aim to find permanent resolutions to refugee situations by offering refugees safety, security, and legal status to move on with their lives in a new country. Policymakers need to carefully consider the legal status provided to refugees once they are resettled through community sponsorship, with a view to ensuring that the quality of resettlement as a durable solution is preserved. For example, Canada ensures the refugees it resettles arrive as permanent residents with the right to move, work, and study freely anywhere in the country and be protected by Canadian law (see 2.C.1(i)).
- INTERNATIONAL RESPONSIBILITY SHARING: The Refugee Convention acknowledges that protecting refugees is an international responsibility. The Convention calls for international cooperation on refugee matters to manage the scope and humanitarian nature of refugee issues, alleviate burdens on certain countries, and avoid tension between states. Resettlement is a mechanism through which states can relieve pressure on countries of first asylum and engage in international cooperation by sharing the burdens and responsibilities of providing international protection. In Canada, community sponsorship of refugees presents an opportunity to participate in international responsibility sharing on refugee issues at a local level.
- ADDITIONALITY/INCREASING RESETTLEMENT SPOTS: Governments need to be mindful of the need to share the responsibility for refugee protection in an international context. According to UNHCR estimates, the number of refugees in need of resettlement greatly surpasses available global quotas. It is therefore important that private sponsorship programs are created in addition to existing government resettlement programs. The additionality principle can be described in several ways:
- In addition to government resettlement: Any refugee resettlement undertaken by communities or private entities should be in addition to government commitments. Otherwise stated, governments should not “off-load” their resettlement responsibilities on private actors. Community sponsorship, as a model of resettlement additional to government efforts, increases the number of global resettlement places offered through state programs. Allowing private sponsors to fill government resettlement spots, rather than adding to spots already committed to by government, may present risks, including an overall decline in global resettlement capacity at a time of unprecedented and urgent need.
- Adding resettlement spots globally: More refugees can be admitted in total if there is a cost/responsibility sharing for resettling refugees between communities and the government. In other words, the two sources of support work together as opposed to in two distinct streams whereby the government provides full support in the first and community sponsors undertake all financial and social responsibility for the sponsorship in the second. Further, the number of vulnerable refugees benefitting from resettlement can be significantly enhanced when community sponsorship programs are implemented in close collaboration with UNHCR to complement government resettlement programs.
- Adding to quality of resettlement: Involving communities in resettlement efforts leads to better and quicker integration outcomes for resettled refugees. Community sponsors provide individualized support in ways that government agencies are unable to, creating enhanced social and emotional support that is critical to making newcomers feel welcome and at home and engage more quickly in various sectors of society.
- FAMILY REUNIFICATION: Refugees resettle and integrate faster if they do not have to worry about family members they left behind. Family members also bolster the social supports available to refugees, smoothing the challenges of transitioning to life in a new country. Using community sponsorship to achieve family reunification rather than making use of other avenues may undermine the humanitarian intent of prioritizing the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement. This tension could be alleviated by offering alternative options for family reunification, such as Canada’s former Assisted Relative Class, which allowed families to sponsor extended family members to come to Canada. Canada offers an avenue for families to reunite with loved ones they left behind through its “One Year Window” of opportunity. Other options not yet explored by Canada can include refugee-specific family reunification programs with broader definitions of family and reduced financial and human capital requirements than regular family reunification programs. For more information see 2.D.5.
- VOLUNTEERISM/COMMUNITY BUILDING: Community sponsorship creates more welcoming communities. Through direct, personal interaction, sponsors develop meaningful and lasting relationships with the refugees they sponsor. Sponsors also learn about the experiences and challenges faced by refugees and often become advocates for acceptance and increased resettlement more generally. Community sponsorship is a true partnership between communities and the government and will only succeed if communities are empowered to act.
- ONGOING PARTNERSHIP & ACCOUNTABILITY: Successful public-private collaboration requires commitment and effort to maintain ongoing dialogue, an improvement and solutions orientation, and openness to change. It also requires transparency and a regular accountability mechanism. Canada invests in infrastructure designed to ensure ongoing communication with key members of the sponsorship community and also carries out performance measurement and program evaluation activities on a regular basis to improve program and policy integrity and efficacy.
Barbara Treviranus and Michael Casasola, “Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program: A Practitioner’s Perspective of its Past and Future” (Journal of International Migration and Integration, 2003)
Alastair Ager and Alison Strang, “Understanding Integration: A Conceptual Framework” (Journal of Refugee Studies, 2008)
Judith Kumin, “Welcoming Engagement: How Private Sponsorship Can Strengthen Refugee Resettlement in the European Union” (Migration Policy Institute, 2015)