Canada is seeking to fast track refugee processing, as it faces a backlog of more than 10,000 private sponsorship offers as public support outpaces the government’s resettlement efforts.
Canada to increase refugee quota
As many states in Europe close their borders in the face of the refugee crisis, and the U.S remains bitterly divided about accepting just 10,000 refugees, Canada is increasing its resettlement efforts. Having been elected with a pledge to bring in 25,000 refugees by the end of 2015 (a goal met in February 2016), Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is again increasing its efforts to help refugees. Spurred by the image of a drowned Alan Kurdi who – along with his family was trying to reach Canada – the Canadian public has utilized Canada’s pioneering private sponsorship program to translate sympathy into concrete action.
Minister for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship John McCallum has stated that the number of refugees accepted into Canada since October 2015, will rise above 50,000 by the end of 2016. Currently, the government is facing criticism for taking too long bringing in privately sponsored refugees.
After fulfilling their promise of 25,000, the government has had send to Canadian officials back to the Middle East to expedite the processing of 10,000 existing private sponsorship claims.
While the overall goal of 17,500 privately sponsored refugees for 2016 has not changed, McCallum has noted the backlog in the system, which due to the government’s inability to keep up with private sector enthusiasm for sponsoring Syrian refugees:
“I expressed sorrow that we could not move faster in response to the outpouring of generosity by Canadians. I suspect I’m the only immigration minister in the world who has the problem of having to struggle to keep up with the generosity of [citizens] wanting to sponsor refugees.”
To aid this effort, the government has lifted its cap of 10,500 (out of 17,500) for Syrian refugees, seeking to find a balance, while preventing refugees from other countries being neglected.
Canada’s private sponsorship program a world first
Canada introduced its groundbreaking private sponsorship program in 1978 in response to turmoil in South East Asian, notably Vietnam. The government pledged to accept 60,000 Vietnamese over three years, so long as each government sponsored refugee was matched by a privately sponsored one.
The program was and continues to be a success, with over 200,000 individuals arriving in Canada through the private sponsorships program since 1978 – a quarter of the over 800,000 displaced persons who have entered Canada since 1945.
The benefits of the program are evident, as private sponsors allow the government to accept more refugees, at a reduced cost: the annual expense of supporting a family of four is C$27,000.
Follow-up research has also indicated that privately sponsored refugees do better than government sponsored ones. This is due to multiple factors, including benefiting from a support group upon arrival, quicker integration into local communities, and more interpersonal connections with established Canadians.
“The nature of this [Canadian] society is very welcoming… It’s a multicultural society,” said Fadi Hayek, a native of Aleppo, Syria, who arrived with his family in Ottawa as government-assisted refugees on November 7th. “We don’t even feel like refugees.”
Canada’s policy of granting permanent resident status upon arrival, as well as the country’s (comparatively) quicker road to citizenship sees Canada boast one of the highest naturalization rates in the world at 85.6% in 2011 – compared to 43.7% for the U.S.
Furthermore, Canada’s private sponsorship program benefits from the wide range of groups that are eligible to sponsor refugees. This list includes so called ‘Sponsorship Agreement Holders’ (SAH); incorporated organizations (primarily religious, humanitarian, or ethno-cultural groups) that work alongside ‘Constituent Groups’ at the community level to organize resources for incoming refugees. Alongside SAHs, ‘Community Sponsors’ can also sponsor refugees: these can be for-profit or non-profit entities (either incorporated or unincorporated) located in destination communities.
Lastly, there is the ‘G5’ class of sponsor, which allows groups of five or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents over the age of 18 to pool resources and sponsor refugees directly. All groups must demonstrate the ability and commitment to provide all necessary services and resources for at least one year.
The success of the the private sponsorship program has seen Canada export this model to other nations: Australia began a pilot project in 2012 (made permanent in 2015), similar trials have been underway in Ireland, Switzerland, and 15 of Germany’s 16 states since 2013. Furthermore, the UK, New Zealand, and Argentina are planning trial programs in the near future.
Canada’s enthusiastic private sector response
Alongside average citizens, Canadian businesses are pledging support for incoming refugees. Canadian National Rail donated C$5 million to help resettle refugees, and IKEA Canada pledged C$180,000 in furniture to furnish homes of incoming refugees. Air Canada and Enerjet have offered plans and logistical staff to aid the government in transporting refugees out of the Middle East. Additionally, Guelph businessman, and former Blackberry executive Jim Estil pledged $1.5 million of his own money to single-handedly sponsor 50 Syrian refugees.
Alongside donations, various Canadian companies are pledging to hire Syrian refugees, including Maple Leaf Foods which is offering positions at its factories in Alberta and Manitoba. New arrivals to Canada are also benefiting from support of former refugees turned business owners. Alongside Mainstreet Equity which is offering discounts to refugees on 200 apartments, Boardwalk Rental Communities is offering discounts on over 350 apartments in Western Canada.
Boardwalk CEO Bob Dhillon says his own experience as an immigrant to Canada spurred him to action. This sentiment has been expressed by other business owners, notably Seatply CEO Levan Afeyan, who escaped Lebanon’s civil war forty years ago, and now runs a major plywood factory. Afeyan is offering jobs to Syrian refugees and free language courses in Montreal. Similarly, Paramount Fine Foods has committed to hiring refugees at every one of its stores. Paramount CEO, Mohammad Fakih explained that he wanted to help because “that’s what people did for me when I arrived to Canada.”
Canada’s attitude towards the refugee crisis is in sharp contrast to many other countries, as the country embraces the positive, compassionate attitude espoused by the Trudeau government, and capitalizes on its private sponsorship system to welcome refugees.