A Reflexive View of Refugee Integration and Inclusion: A Case Study of the Mennonite Central Committee and the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program.

Author:Gingrich, Luann Good


Through a qualitative case study with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) sponsorship groups and former refugee newcomers, we adopt a reflexive, relational, and systemic lens (Bourdieu) to analyze the institutional and interpersonal relationships in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program, and more specifically, the ways in which MCC Ontario's sponsorship program invigorates or frustrates dynamics of social inclusion. We situate the institutional relations of the PSR Program as nested social fields and subfields, revealing complementary and competing systems of capital that direct explicit and implicit visions for "success" in MCC sponsorships. A peculiar Mennonite/MCC social field and structure of capital generates institutional and social tensions, yet an ambivalent disposition or divided habitus presents possibilities for seeing, understanding, and challenging dynamics of social exclusion.


A travers une etude de cas qualitative avec des groupes de parrainage du Comite Central Mennonite (MCC) et d'anciens nouveaux arrivants comme refugies, nous adoptons une perspective reflexive, relationnelle et systemique (Bourdieu) pour analyser les relations institutionnelles et interpersonnelles dans le Programme de parrainage prive des refugies, et plus specifiquement les facons dont le programme de parrainage du MCC Ontario fortifie ou entrave les dynamiques d'inclusion sociale. Nous situons les diverses relations institutionnelles du Programme de parrainage prive des refugies comme etant des champs et sous-champs sociaux imbriques, revelant des systemes complementaires et concurrents de capital qui orientent des visions explicites et implicites de la "reussite" dans les parrainages du MCC. Un champ social et une structure de capital Mennonite singuliers generent des tensions institutionnelles et sociales. Toutefois une disposition ambivalente ou un habitus divise presentent des possibilites pour voir, comprendre et remettre en question les dynamiques d'exclusion sociale.

What Is the Sponsor's Role? Your role ... is not to provide instant aNSWers, but rather to encourage the newcomers to weigh and test a variety of possibilities.... Sponsors should be involved in a mutual learning process.... Each culture, and individuals within that culture, have their own way of doing things.... Remember that they, as yourself, need to be treated as people with feelings and needs.... Patience, mutual respect, good humour and love are invaluable assets as you work together in resettlement. (2) The Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program in Canada has been hailed by some as an exemplar for social inclusion and integration of refugee newcomers into the host society. This self-proclaimed "pioneering refugee resettlement program," (3) overseen by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) through the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP), gives "ordinary people across the country" the opportunity to use their own personal resources (monetary and otherwise) "to be directly involved in the resettlement of refugees from abroad." (4)

According to IRCC, the role of a sponsor, post-arrival, is "to support the refugees for the length of the sponsorship [one year]. This includes help for housing, clothing and food, as well as social and emotional support." (5) Sponsoring groups are directed to partner with IRCC-funded Service Provider Organizations (SPOS) to "support the settlement and integration of PSRS." (6)

While settlement and integration are not defined in government documents, emphasis is given to independence and self-sufficiency. For example, the RSTP Handbook for Sponsoring Groups states, "During the first year, newcomers learn a tremendous amount and generally move from a high degree of dependence to a high degree of independence. Through it all, your role is that of an enabler, supporting newcomers to equip themselves, make their own decisions and find out as much as possible about their new environment. Above all, you are providing warm friendship and support." (7)

The specific outcomes identified by the Canadian government--"finding employment, learning English, learning life skills to function in Canada" (8)--suggest that priority is placed on effecting individual level adaptation so that the refugee newcomer family reaches economic self-sufficiency through paid work. In contrast, we open this article with an excerpt from a 1979 Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) document when the PSR Program was in its infancy. This passage provides a glimpse of a peculiar Mennonite/MCC ethos that is defined by a non-conformist and communal heritage, culture, and institutional structure. (9) This, we argue, is consequential for the nature of sponsor-newcomer relationships, associated values and goals, and positions and dispositions that develop through MMC'S refugee sponsorships.

We adopt a reflexive, relational, and systemic lens to analyze the institutional and interpersonal relationships in the private sponsorship of refugees. We are most interested in examining the tensions and contradictions of sponsor-newcomer relationships and associated positions and dispositions (or habitus) that are produced, at the institutional and interpersonal scales. We situate the PSR Program as a social field with a particular system of capital and habitus. This theoretical lens brings to our attention the symbolic economy, or logic, of the social relations of private sponsorship, revealing both complementary and competing systems of capita] that direct explicit and implicit visions for "success" in MCC sponsorships, and result in institutional and social tensions and an ambivalent disposition or divided habitus. We argue that the "double privatization" of the PSR Program is consequential, even in shaping individual private sponsorship roles and associated dispositions. Equally important in this case example is the unique synergies between MCC as an organization and the congregations that make up its base of support, many of which have sponsored refugees for a sustained period of time. Thus, we theorize, these local and global synergies reproduce a distinct Mennonite ethos (or social field) that is embodied in institutions and individuals.

In this article we draw on focus group and interview data with MCC constituent group (CG) members and former refugee newcomers, along with organizational documents, to examine the nature and evolution of the relationships, responsibilities, positions, and dispositions of private sponsorship. (10) We begin with a brief history of the private refugee sponsorship program in Canada and MMC'S part in its development, followed by an outline of this study's theoretical framework and methodology. The bulk of the article is devoted to our analysis of institutional and interpersonal relationships, tensions, contradictions, and possibilities as they emerged in our data.

Private Refugee Sponsorship in Canada

Complementing Canada's Government-Assisted Refugee (GAR) Program, the 1976 Immigration Act officially institutionalized the PSR Program. Cameron and Labman note that "sponsorship is permitted through three types of sponsorship groups: 'Groups of Five,' 'Community Sponsors,' and 'Constituent Groups (CGS),' who are members of an organization that is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH)." (11) As of February 2019, there were 114 SAHS across Canada, (12) 75 per cent of which are connected with religious communities. (13) Approximately 65 per cent of refugees privately resettled are sponsored or co-sponsored by a SAH. (14)

Until recently, much of the literature on private refugee sponsorship has focused on program evaluation and history (15) and falls within the context of the Indochinese refugee movement, when the program was initially used and internationally recognized. (16) Research tends to compare refugee resettlement streams (e.g., GARS versus PSRS) or demographic features and is focused more on outcomes for refugee newcomers than on processes and practices in resettlement. (17) More recently an influx of research has addressed the realities of private sponsorship of Syrian refugee newcomers, considering identity (18) or motivations and characteristics of sponsors. (19) There is a much smaller body of literature on the unique history and involvement of MCC during this time and prior to signing the first Master Agreement. (20) MMC'S role in refugee resettlement is acknowledged within the larger fabric of Christian institutions in Canada, (21) while some literature specifically addresses cross-cultural and religious interactions between Indochinese refugees and their Mennonite sponsors. (22) Our focus is on the sponsoring relationships within a larger social system and specific social subfield of MCC as a SAH.

Theoretical Considerations: Models of Integration, Social Fields, and Structures of Capital

Integration and inclusion are regularly considered critical to settlement of refugee newcomers. (23) In practice, integration and inclusion are often used interchangeably, notwithstanding discrete conceptual roots and distinct vast literatures. Particularly in the context of settlement services for immigrants and refugees, inclusion may emphasize a subjective sense of belonging and trust over the material realities of settlement and integration. (24)

Despite their ubiquity, definitions and indicators of inclusion, or integration, commonly remain implicit and specific to national contexts and cultural trends that shift over time, revealing the normative nature of an unquestioned social ideal. We consider concepts of refugee integration or inclusion to be produced by an assumed logic that is associated with material and symbolic capital (or resources) in a social field.

From an individualistic and categorical point of view, integration is most often equated with participation in various social arenas, and interventions focus on increasing individual capacity for meaningful...

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