New York Times: “They Adopted Refugee Families for a Year. Then Came ‘Month 13.’”

by Joseph McKeown

The Canadian refugee program is one of the most unique in the world. In addition to government sponsorship and resettlement, the Canadian government allows private sponsorship for refugees. Private sponsors—who can be a mix of major organizations and smaller groups and individuals—are involved at every step of the resettlement process, from initial paperwork, maintaining communications pre-arrival, assisting with the screening process, and providing financial support for numerous aspects of the refugees’ lives in Canada, including travel, accommodation, and food, although the government still assists with certain expenses. Importantly, private sponsors are also expected to provide valuable emotional support and help refugees integrate into Canadian communities. With the refugee crisis again reaching a peak, most recently as a result of the Syrian war displacing millions of people, many Canadians have agreed to become private sponsors. One Canadian businessman has even sponsored over two hundred refugees.

The New York Times has taken an extended look into this refugee program, detailing over a series of four articles the interactions and relationships between Syrian refugees and their sponsors. In part 1, the Canadian sponsors welcome the Syrian families, who are grateful but wary as they begin the complicated and intimidating process of adjusting to a new life. In Part 2, the Syrian refugees continue to adjust to life in Canada, and while many are thankful for their new lives, they face agonizing decisions on how to help those left behind.

In part 3, Syrian parents are amazed at how quickly some of their kids are adjusting to their new life, and struggle to help them maintain their cultural identity and traditions. “I just want to be Canadian,” one daughter says. In the last part, sponsors and refugees grapple with the end of the required financial commitment on the part of the sponsor, which lasts for one year. Beginning in month thirteen, the Canadian sponsors will hand over the lease to the apartment and the responsibility for paying the rent as well as making key financial decisions.

Many sponsors, very much involved in the life of the refugees, ask themselves such questions as: “Were they doing too much for the Syrian family? Should they stand back and stop acting as chauffeurs, planners and all-around fixers? Were they willing to let the family make mistakes? Even if they wanted to stop helping, would they be able to?” While some Syrian refugees continued to struggle and make slow progress, on the whole, many refugees were doing well. At the very least, those who were privately sponsored were outpacing the thousands who were being resettled by the government. While about half of those who were privately sponsored had employment, only about ten percent of government-sponsored refugees had jobs (on the whole, though, they were less educated and had higher rates of serious health problems and other needs). 

No similar private sponsorship program exists in the US. The Trump administration has capped the refugee resettlement at a total of 50,000, and is doing little to contribute to a solution to the refugee crisis, even attempting to twice temporarily ban Syrian refugees, though this ban was blocked both times. Other countries, however, are interested in the Canadian private sponsorship model. The Canadian government is in the process of exporting the program to other countries with the help of the United Nations and billionaire George Soros. More than a dozen countries have made inquires, and the United Kingdom is in the process of implementing their version. Australia, Spain, and Japan have also expressed interest. “Every country’s circumstances are different but we believe this is a good model which is exportable to other countries,” Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum says. “You are miles ahead if you can bring refugees in supported by our own citizens. Then they have a base from which to go. They have a welcome, rather than having refugees come in uninvited or illegally or alone.”