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Resettlement Sponsorship

Refugee resettlement: Minister Ahmed Hussen explains the Canadian model

Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship on how private citizens can support refugee resettlement

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Director of Innovation Strategy, International Rescue Committee
Chief Innovation Officer, International Rescue Committee

In 1975, the fall of Saigon ended the Vietnam War and forced over a million people from their homes in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Canada resettled more than 60,000 of these refugees between 1979 and 1980. Approximately half were privately sponsored by Canadian citizens, who received the UNHCR’s Nansen medal for their compassion.

Today, approaching its forty-year anniversary, Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program has resettled over 330,000 people. On this episode of Displaced, the Honorable Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship and a refugee himself, sits down with Ravi and Grant to discuss the history of the program, its impact on Canadian society, and how other countries can learn from Canada’s innovative approach to refugee response.

Compared to its government-sponsored routes to resettlement, Canada’s private sponsorship model produces better outcomes in terms of language, employment, and other measures of integration. But Hussen notes that there are important knock-on benefits as well. The program is “equally if not more transformative for the sponsors and their community,” Hussen says. Canadians who participate in the program “essentially become very very strong advocates for refugees after that experience and they tend to sponsor again and again.” With at least five citizens sponsoring each refugee, the past forty years have produced a large constituency of Canadians deeply informed about and committed to refugee issues.

The Honorable Ahmed Hussen, Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship

Canada has shared its private sponsorship model with other countries, inspiring similar programs in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the UK, and elsewhere. But Hussen also stresses the importance of supporting countries that host the lion’s share of the world’s displaced populations: places like Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Noting that Jordan, which has the world’s second-highest per capita share of refugees, has struggled with issues like water scarcity, Hussen asks, “How can we have policies in place to encourage those countries to continue to be generous but to also help them to remain resilient?”

For Hussen, encouraging countries to increase their resettlement numbers is a matter of political leadership. The private sector, too, can play an important role in supporting refugees, particular in light of evidence that employing refugees improves retention rates and strengthens recruitment. Still, Hussen argues that the best way to encourage countries to step up their support for refugee protection is to develop international mechanisms for accountability. “We need those kinds of innovative approaches because, again, not every refugee can be resettled in the West,” he says. “So how can we encourage these other countries to remain in the game and to continue to be more generous?”

“Canadians who have sponsored a refugee or a refugee family tend to be very much transformed by the experience … for them refugees are no longer an abstract issue to debate but actually real human beings who are now essentially part of their family.”

Could a private sponsorship model work in the United States? Hussen speaks with Ravi and Grant about the nuts and bolts of Canada’s program and the challenges posed by economic constraints. “Germans, Australians, Americans—everyone is as generous as Canadians,” Hussen affirms. “I think the job of ... political leaders is to provide that that outlet for generosity.”

Related Readings

Remarks at the Adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration — The Honorable Ahmed Hussen

Five Questions: On Canada’s Refugee Sponsorship Program — Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law

Syrian Refugees in Canada’s North: ‘It’s Not Warm in Weather, but Warm in Emotions’ — Ashifa Kassam and Raya Jalabi, The Guardian

This is How Private Citizens Could Help Refugees Come to the U.S. — T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Time

Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year. Then Came Month 13 — Jodi Cantor and Catrin Einhorn, New York Times

Opinions and views expressed by guests are their own and do not reflect those of the International Rescue Committee.