During last years’ general election campaign, each of the three main parties pledged that if they were elected they would bring in greater numbers of Syrian refugees. The Conservatives pledged 10,000 over three years, the New Democrats said they would take in 10,000 by the end of the year and 9,000 annually after that. The Liberals, the highest of the three, promised to admit 25,000 refugees by January 1st. After winning the election they successfully reached their target on February 27th 2016. This year there are plans to admit another close to 30,000 refugees from Syria.
The government’s policies have brought to light an interesting approach to refugee admission policies. According to research, privately-sponsored refugees become more successful than their government-sponsored counterparts or asylum seekers who arrive on their own; due in large part because they have a support group from the moment they arrive.
The Liberals were able to fulfill their promise largely because individual Canadians stepped forward to sponsor 11,000 of the total 26,166 Syrians who arrived after the new government took office in early November 2015.
These policies were set in motion by the current conflict in Syria and are similar to world events of 1978. Private sponsorship of refugees began in Canada in at that time when the Indochinese began fleeing from Vietnam after the war. The refugee crisis was initially regarded as an American problem but this later changed after extensive media coverage of the plight of refugees, similar in many respects to the coverage that Syrian refugees have received in recent times. Canada agreed to welcome 60,000 Indochina refugees over three years, as long as each government-supported refugee was matched with one who was privately sponsored. By the end of 1980, over 60,000 refugees had arrived with over half sponsored by private groups. Since then more than 200,000 have come to Canada under a sponsor program.
There are several advantages for the government in promoting private sponsorships. Private groups shoulder the bulk of the costs of settling refugees over the course of 1-year which is (estimated to be at least C$27,000 for a family of four).
Areas of the country where the population is declining or aging rapidly, such as the Atlantic Provinces including Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, are especially receptive to a pool of highly educated newcomers.
Other countries have been inspired by Canada’s use of private sponsorship programs, proving that a shared approach with a county’s citizens can help governments to welcome a substantial number of refugees without having to shoulder the full costs.
In 2012, Australia started a similar pilot project which later became a permanent fixture in 2015. Prior to 2013, no such program even existed in Europe. Since then, Ireland and Switzerland have experimented with the idea and 15 of Germany’s 16 states have also established private sponsorship agreements. Other countries are currently taking similar steps and the world’s flow of refugees is thankfully finding some relief.
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