Fostering Better Integration through Youth-Led Refugee Sponsorship.

Author:McKee, Carolyn


World University Service of Canada (WUSC) participates in private sponsorship as a sponsorship agreement holder through its Student Refugee Program. More than ninety campus-based constituent groups known as WUSC Local Committees resettle approximately 130 refugee students to Canadian post-secondary institutions each year. This article seeks to assess the effectiveness of the Student Refugee Program's youth-to-youth sponsorship model in integrating former refugees into their receiving communities. We outline the impact of the Student Refugee Program upon its beneficiaries, the important role youth volunteers play in supporting their integration and building more welcoming communities for newcomers in Canada, and the effect of the program on receiving societies. We conclude with recommendations for scaling up the program in Canada and sharing the model internationally.


Entraide universitaire mondiale du Canada prend part au parrainage prive en tant que Signataire d'entente de parrainage a travers son Programme d'etudiantes et d'etudiants refugies. Plus de 90 comites locaux sur les campus reinstallent approximativement 130 etudiants refugies dans des institutions postsecondaires canadiennes chaque annee. Cet article cherche a evaluer l'efficacite du modele de parrainage par et pour les jeunes du Programme d'etudiantes et d'etudiants refugies a integrer d'anciens refugies dans leurs communautes de reception. Nous presentons l'impact du Programme d'etudiantes et d'etudiants refugies sur ses beneficiaires, le role important que les jeunes benevoles jouent afin de soutenir leur integration et construire des communautes plus accueillantes pour les nouveaux arrivants au Canada, ainsi que l'effet du programme sur les universites d'accueil. En conclusion, nous presentons des recommandations pour ameliorer le programme au Canada et partager le modele a l'international.


In recent years, the global refugee crisis has pushed public discourse on refugee and migrant issues into the spotlight in Canada and around the world. Since 2015, more than 107,245 refugees were resettled to Canada through different channels. (1) Refugees are resettled to Canada directly from overseas contexts (2) through three programs: the Government Assisted Refugees Program, the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program, and the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSRP). (3) This article will focus on the last.

The PSRP provides an opportunity for Canadians and permanent residents to become actively involved in the resettlement of refugees. The program is a partnership between the government of Canada, the government of Quebec, and groups that decide to offer sponsorship to a refugee or refugees. These groups include faith-based groups, groups of five or more individuals, or community associations. Under the PSRP, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) facilitates refugees' arrival in Canada, and private sponsors provide the individuals with housing, financial support, and settlement assistance for their first year of residence in Canada. Organizations can hold agreements with IRCC to allow other groups to sponsor on their behalf. These organizations are called sponsorship agreement holders (SAHS), and the subgroups are known as constituent groups, SAHS are responsible for selecting their constituent groups, submitting immigration paperwork to IRCC, and guiding and supporting their constituent groups to provide quality integration support to refugees. The SAH and constituent groups are jointly responsible for the emotional and financial support of the refugees resettled under their agreements.

World University Service of Canada (WUSC) is a SAH that supports more than ninety campus-based constituent groups, known as WUSC Local Committees, to resettle approximately 130 refugee students to Canadian post-secondary institutions annually. Student members of local committees with support from faculty and staff (all referred to as local committee members) provide integration support to Student Refugee Program beneficiaries (the refugee students who are resettled to Canada through the program) and work to build more welcoming communities for newcomers by organizing public engagement activities on their campuses.

This article has a dual purpose: to assess the effectiveness of the Student Refugee Programs youth-to-youth sponsorship model in integrating former refugees into their receiving communities, and to share lessons learned and policy implications. (4) We outline the impact of the Student Refugee Program upon its beneficiaries, and the important role youth volunteers play in supporting the integration process and in helping to build more welcoming communities for newcomers in Canada.

The evidence that supports this article's conclusions is drawn from a case study on groups of Student Refugee Program beneficiaries, local committee members, and alumni of both groups. Data were collected using a mixed methods approach: questionnaires, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews. This article will include a review of the literature on holistic newcomer integration and youth leadership in global issues, followed by a presentation of our methods and results. The discussion includes analysis of the results of the study in relation to the impact of the program 011 its beneficiaries and youth volunteers, as well as the broader community. Finally, we will share WUSC'S plans to scale up the program in Canada and recommendations for other countries and refugee resettlement programs regarding youth involvement in supporting the integration of resettled youth with a refugee background (herein referred to as refugee youth).

Holistic Integration of Newcomers

While refugees resettled to Canada arrive in safer environments than their home contexts, they face challenges upon settlement and throughout the integration process in Canada. Language proficiency in French or English is a primary challenge for newly arrived refugees, which is a barrier to obtaining appropriate employment, navigating the education systems and accessing higher education, and building social bridges within Canadian communities.

Holistic Integration Model

Over the past decade, researchers in Canada have focused primarily on the more traditional economic markers of "successful" integration such as type of employment, income, and poverty levels; however, there is a growing need to demonstrate the importance and role of social and systemic factors that influence overall integration success of refugee populations. In addition, there is a need to better understand the role that receiving communities play in creating welcoming and responsive communities to meet the needs of diverse refugee groups. Yu, Ouellet, and Warmington defined refugee integration as a "dynamic, multi-faceted two-way process which requires adaptation on the part of the newcomers, but also the society of the destination" on social, functional, and psychological levels. (5) Ager and Strang built on this idea by developing the social integration model, which pushed the discourse beyond objective material markers to include other variables related to socio-economic context, such as language, culture and knowledge, and safety and security. (6) While this model further refined past theories of refugee integration, it was limited in that it did not include refugees' sense of belonging to their new communities, institutional adaptation to refugee needs, or the holistic nature of the integration process.

Hynie, Korn, and Tao refined Ager and Strang's model to create the holistic integration model (figure 1). (7) This model showcases how each of the factors relevant for strong integration found in Ager and Strang's theory (i.e., citizenship, language and cultural knowledge, safety and stability, social bonds, bridges and links, housing, education, employment, and health) are interdependent. These factors are grouped into three main categories: social identity (social connections, community welcome, institutional adaptation); personal history (language, culture, functional); and socioeconomic context (sense of belonging, safety, and security). Hynie, Korn, and Tao emphasize the essential role of the receiving communities and explain the interdependence of these categories as "the extent to which agencies, institutions, and communities accommodate refugee needs ... facilitate the functional aspects of integration [and] also create a feeling of welcome, thus affecting the integration process at the social and subjective, as well as functional levels." (8)

The holistic integration model suggests that although refugees are required to build their skills and knowledge of the receiving community, such as language and socio-cultural practices, the receiving community must also support changes within institutions, systems, and social attitudes to accommodate refugee needs and experiences in order to achieve effective integration. (9)

The Role of Youth: Integrating Refugees and Building Welcoming Communities

The Student Refugee Program (SRP) is the only known youth-to-youth refugee sponsorship model, attracting global attention. As such, the effect of youth-to-youth sponsorship on both refugee integration and youth sponsors themselves is an emerging topic of study. Despite this gap in the literature, we can draw on the broader research conducted on the role that youth can play as leaders in their communities to effect change. From this research we know that youth can be agents of positive and constructive change for global issues. A United Nations subgroup states that youth can be innovators and active citizens, and argues that their activities are integral to building peaceful communities for all. (10)

The SRP engages a particular segment of youth: post-secondary students. Although there is no research on student-to-student refugee integration, the research on student-to-student mentorship...

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