Resettling Refugees through Community Sponsorship: A Revolutionary Operational Approach Built on Traditional Legal Infrastructure.

Author:Bond, Jennifer


More than a dozen states are exploring the potential of introducing community sponsorship programs as a way of contributing to the global refugee protection regime. This article provides a comparative analysis of the legal and administrative frameworks that have underpinned the introduction of community sponsorship in four diverse countries: Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Argentina. We also briefly examine the introduction of co-sponsorship in the United States, a country without any formal national program. We conclude that while community sponsorship programs have the potential to revolutionize refugee resettlement, their operationalization is not contingent on revolutionary legal infrastructure.


Plus d'une douzaine de pays a travers le monde envisagent activement la possibilite d'introduire des programmes de parrainage communautaires comme maniere de contribuer au regime global de protection des refugies. Cet article offre une analyse comparative des cadres legaux et administratifs sur lesquels s'est appuyee l'introduction du parrainage communautaire dans quatre pays: le Canada, le Royaume-Uni, la Nouvelle-Zelande et l'Argentine. Nous examinons aussi brievement l'introduction du co-parrainage aux Etats-Unis, un pays qui ne possede pas formellement de programme national. Nous concluons que bien que les programmes de parrainage communautaires aient le potentiel de revolutionner la reinstallation des refugies, leur mise en oeuvre ne depend pas d'une infrastructure juridique revolutionnaire.


Community sponsorship programs empower ordinary citizens to welcome and integrate refugee newcomers into their communities. More than a dozen countries are exploring the introduction of these programs as part of their global commitments to refugee protection, and each exploration includes an assessment of feasibility--including considering what statutory, (2) regulatory, (3) and policy (4) structures are required to operationalize the unique model. This article fills a gap in academic literature and policy documents by providing a comparative analysis of the legal and administrative frameworks that have underpinned the introduction of community sponsorship programs in four diverse countries: Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Argentina. We also briefly examine the United States, a country that has recently seen the localized introduction of sponsorship-style programs, despite the absence of a dedicated national scheme or any formal framework. As discussed below, we term the us model "co-sponsorship."

Since the inception of Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program in 1979, ordinary individuals have resettled over 300,000 refugees to large and small communities across the country. Comparative data emanating from this program over the past forty years demonstrate that sponsored refugees have better and quicker integration outcomes than refugees resettled through more traditional government programs. (5) Community sponsorship also engages a broad range of Canadian citizens and enjoys consistent bipartisan political support. (6) Refugee sponsorship received increased attention in late 2015, when a brewing political crisis over refugees spilled into the mainstream media (7) and mobilized millions of people around the world looking to directly assist the vulnerable individuals flashing across their screens each day. (8) In Canada, sponsorship provided an ideal vehicle to organize and leverage this mobilization and--following a time-bound political commitment by a new national government (9)--tens of thousands of Syrians were sponsored to the country in just a few months. (10) Canada's PSR Program also provided a unique channel to sustain and broaden this engagement: since 2015, over two million Canadians from over 400 communities have sponsored refugees (11)--extraordinary figures that hint at the potential power and scope of the community sponsorship model.

In September 2016 the government of Canada, the un Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the Open Society Foundations announced the formation of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI), a partnership aimed at sharing the community sponsorship model, and supporting its adoption around the world. (12) The Giustra Foundation and the University of Ottawa joined the GRSI before it formally launched in December 2016, and the new partnership articulated three goals: increasing and improving refugee resettlement; strengthening and supporting local host communities; and improving the narrative surrounding refugees and newcomers. (13) In its first two years of operation, the GRSI worked with over twenty countries around the world, supporting community and government stakeholders as they assessed feasibility, designed, piloted, and/or implemented sponsorship programs. (14) Jennifer Bond co-founded the GRSI and serves as its chair, while Ania Kwadrans has played a critical role on the team since the initiative launched. While this article does not directly draw on that work, our understanding of community sponsorship is deeply informed by it.

The GRSI's formation, and its subsequent high level of activity, is only one indication of growing global interest in community sponsorship programs. Increasing engagement is also formally reflected in statements and initiatives by the European Union (15) and in the final draft of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), a multilateral agreement that explicitly encourages states to "establish private or community sponsorship programmes ... including community-based programmes promoted through the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative." (16) Momentum is also visible in individual countries, as is clearly reflected in a strong joint statement issued by immigration ministers from Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Argentina, Spain, and New Zealand. The statement notes the benefits of community sponsorship and encourages other countries to adopt these programs. (17)

Collective experience with the process for introducing new community sponsorship programs is growing, but nascent. The case studies presented in this article aim to advance the field by providing examples of varying technical structures that have facilitated introduction of sponsorship across a range of countries. Each of our case studies explores legislation, executive announcements and orders, and any operational infrastructure that may have been established through regulation and policy documents, and subsequently implemented by government organizations or entities with delegated authority. On the basis of our five country examples, we conclude that while the legislative and policy nuances of each community sponsorship program have emerged in ways tailored to each state's particular context, the frameworks that underpin these programs contain key similarities, including reliance on the same basic infrastructure as traditional refugee resettlement schemes.

Definitions and Methodology

The terms community sponsorship, private sponsorship, and refugee sponsorship have not been universally defined, (18) resulting in conceptual confusion amongst stakeholders--a topic Jennifer Bond is exploring in a dedicated piece of writing. (19) For the purposes of this contribution, we define community sponsorship programs as programs that empower groups of ordinary individuals--as opposed to governments or professionalized agencies--to lead in welcoming, supporting, and integrating refugees. (20) While policy design features vary between countries, (21) the basic model is a "public-private partnership between governments who, [at minimum,] facilitate legal admission of refugees, and private actors who provide financial, social and/or emotional support to receive and settle [those] refugees into [their] community." (22)

Under our conceptualization of community sponsorship, the model responds to the observation that "by redefining basic human needs as 'problems' that only professionals can resolve ... over-professionalization alienates people from the helping relationships they could establish with neighbours and kin." (23) The deep engagement and high degree of responsibility undertaken by individual refugee sponsors repositions newcomers from vulnerable outsiders whom private individuals watch fail or succeed, to partners in a project of collective interests: the newcomers' success is inherently also the sponsors' success. This profound partnership divides sponsorship programs from other forms of refugee support, including those that rely heavily on volunteers but are fundamentally led by paid professionals.

This article presents the legal and policy architecture that states have used to enable citizen sponsors to lead in resettling refugees. In addition to exploring four countries with government-created, national sponsorship programs, we also briefly examine the United States, a country with a large refugee resettlement program but no formal community sponsorship scheme at the legislative or policy level. Despite this absence, several local resettlement organizations in the United States have developed de facto sponsorship-style initiatives by sub-delegating authority in a way that manifests the type of citizen-led process at the core of our understanding of sponsorship. Since professionalized agencies retain official responsibility for newcomers' integration, these programs do not fall within the scope of our definition of community sponsorship, and we thus present them using a different but related term: co-sponsorship.

We also deliberately restrict our analysis to countries that have introduced sponsorship programs in the context of resettlement--the relocation of a refugee from her country of asylum to a third country, usually with the support of the un Refugee Agency (UNHCR). (24) Resettlement programs are voluntary: while the Refugee Convention codifies obligations for states to protect certain non-nationals who claim...

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