1.B What is Community Sponsorship?
B.3 Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program
Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program has been a vehicle for engaging Canadian communities to provide additional resettlement opportunities for refugees since it was established by the 1976 Immigration Act, which came into effect in 1978. The provisions allowing private sponsorship were quickly put to use in 1979, when more than 7,000 groups of Canadians mobilized to sponsor approximately 34,000 Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees within just two years. In Ottawa alone, thousands of Canadians gathered at a public meeting to learn more about how they could help in the midst of the crisis unfolding in Asia. The City Council of Ottawa quickly approved funding to launch Project 4000, a non-governmental organization that provided resettlement assistance to sponsoring groups and sponsored refugees. Ottawa citizens sponsored approximately 2,000 refugees from Southeast Asia by 1983.
In 1986, the outpouring of energy and support by Canadians nationwide in response to the Indochinese refugee crisis earned the “people of Canada” the Nansen Medal, a United Nations award given for service to refugees. It is the only time an entire country’s population has been given the award.
The PSR program’s utility and flexibility were showcased in several time-sensitive resettlement initiatives. For example, Canada partnered with the Ismaili community to implement Project FOCUS Afghanistan to privately sponsor nearly 1,800 Afghan refugees from 1994 to 1998. In the Sierra Leone Blended Sponsorship Pilot, Canada provided four months of financial assistance while sponsoring groups provided the remaining eight. A similar three months/nine months (“3/9”) blended program was created to privately sponsor Iraqi refugees. Similar programs were used to partner with the Anglican Primate in 2009 and the Rainbow Refugee Society to sponsor lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer refugees in 2011.
Following the widespread media attention on Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015, Canadians turned to the PSR program as a mechanism to provide safety to Syrians and Iraqis who were fleeing from violence and civil instability in their countries. In eighteen months, Canadians from over 400 communities nationwide committed to providing financial, emotional, and community support to approximately 18,000 Syrian refugees under the PSR program.
Since its creation, the PSR program has been used to resettle approximately 300,000 refugees in Canada who would have had no other durable solution. In addition, hundreds of communities across Canada have benefited by coming together to welcome privately sponsored refugees.