New agreements between the federal government and the agencies who sponsor refugees threaten to make private sponsorship of refugees more like government sponsorship and drain the bank accounts of private sponsors, says Archdiocese of Toronto refugee advocate Martin Mark. Register file photo

Advocates worry new agreement will hurt private sponsorship refugee program

  • June 22, 2017

Private refugee sponsors need to guard the success of their program and protect their donors’ money, says Archdiocese of Toronto refugee advocate Martin Mark.

New draft five-year agreements between the federal government and the agencies who sponsor refugees threaten to make private sponsorship of refugees more like government sponsorship and drain the bank accounts of private sponsors, according to Mark.

Mark is particularly worried by requirements in the draft agreements that would have private sponsors reproduce the government’s Resettlement Assistance Program, which pays refugees a monthly stipend over their first 12 months in Canada while they take language courses and programs to get them ready for the job market.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is negotiating the final wording of the agreements with the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders’ Association and hopes to have them finalized by Dec. 31, 2017.

The government isn’t trying to take over the private sponsorship program or make it more like the government’s sponsorship program, said IRCC spokesman Rémi Lariviére.

“SAHs maintain the right to choose whom they wish to sponsor and the only restriction is one of intake management, in that they must have appropriate allocations within the overall global cap on SAH-submitted sponsorship,” Lariviére said.

But paying refugees to stay home and take a few hours of language classes per day ignores the success private sponsors have had in getting refugees employed and self-sufficient quickly, said Mark.

Government studies have shown that privately sponsored refugees get settled and get jobs faster than government sponsored refugees. Among Syrian refugees, a Dec. 21, 2016 report showed that over half of adult privately sponsored refugees already had jobs less than a year after arriving in Canada. In comparison, just 10 per cent of government-sponsored Syrian refugees were employed.

If people’s first experience of Canada is one of passive reliance on welfare, job market success becomes less and less likely as time goes on, said Mark.

“We encourage refugees to balance between upgrading skills — education — and at the same time gaining financial independence. We motivate them,” he said.

But a large part of the difference is explained by which refugees are privately sponsored versus government sponsored, said Lariviére.

“Government-supported refugees are identified by the UNHCR and other designated referral organizations because of their vulnerability and often have lower education and language skills,” he said. “In many cases, they often have no family or community connections in Canada. As a result, initial integration tends to be slower.”

Mark concedes that private sponsors tend to select better educated, intact families with middle class backgrounds and family connections in Canada. In part that’s so that these families may then transition to become sponsors for their more vulnerable family, he said.

“When you take from the government program the able bodied, skilled refugees with no medical conditions and basic language skills and you compare those people with our refugees in similar categories, then we have a significant difference of 80 per cent of their refugees who will go on welfare and in our case 90 per cent, more than 95 per cent, actually gain financial independence very fast,” said Mark.

Nor is it the case that the Archdiocese of Toronto limits itself to the easy cases, said Mark.

“We have a significant number of people who are disadvantaged,” he said. “(Cardinal Thomas Collins) says we should be the voice of the voiceless in the refugee camps. We accept referrals from the United Nations, regularly.”

If Church-sponsored agencies are forced to make monthly welfare-like payments to refugees regardless of their ability to work, it will sabotage the program and the agency, said Mark.

“How can I give a refugee money once that refugee already earns enough money to manage their lives?”

Refugees by the numbers

Every year on World Refugee Day, June 20, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees releases a statistical profile of the world’s refugee population for the previous year. This year the UNHCR reports:

  • – A record 22.5 million refugees in 2016 is the highest number recorded since the UNHCR was founded in 1950.
  • – A total of 65.6 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes as of last December, including 40.3 million still living within their own countries and not technically counted as refugees.
  • – 2.8 million refugees had formally applied for asylum at the end of last year, including 75,000 claims from children travelling alone or separated from parents.
  • – The world’s fastest growing refugee crisis is being generated by famine and war in South Sudan, where 737,400 people had fled the country by the end of 2016.

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