(Mis)Trusted Contact: Resettlement Knowledge Assets and the Third Space of Refugee Reception.

Author:Kyriakides, Christopher


Drawing on interviews with 204 participants in two studies of privately sponsored refugee resettlement in Ontario, Canada, we explore the resettlement effects of pre-arrival contact on the interactional dynamics between private sponsors and privately sponsored Syrian refugees. Those who had regular pre-arrival contact via digital applications such as Facebook, Skype, and Whatsapp reported more positive, "successful" resettlement experiences than those who had not. This pre-arrival interactive dynamic has theoretical/conceptual implications beyond an understanding of the benefits of "information exchange." Pre-arrival sponsor-sponsored interaction is not bound by the contexts of displacement or resettlement, but constitutes a "third space" of reception, co-created through trusted contact. We develop the concept of "resettlement knowledge assets" and report on how these assets emerge through pre-arrival trust building, modify the resettlement expectations of both sponsors and sponsored, and reduce resettlement uncertainty.


A partir d'entrevues avec 204 participants a deux etudes sur la reinstallation de refugies parrainee de facon privee en Ontario, Canada, nous explorons les effet sur la reinstallation que les contacts avant l'arrivee ont sur la dynamique interactionnelle entre les parrains prives et les refugies parraines de facon privee. Ceux qui ont entretenu des contacts reguliers avant l'arrivee a travers des applications digitales telles que Facebook, Skype et Whatsapp ont rapporte des experiences de reinstallation plus positives et reussies que ceux qui n'en ont pas eu. Cette dynamique interactive avant l'arrivee a des implications theoriques et conceptuelles audela d'une comprehension des benefices de l'echange d'information. L'interaction avant l'arrivee entre les parrains et les parraines n'est pas limitee aux contextes de deplacement et de reinstallation, mais constitue un espace tiers de reception, co-cree a travers un rapport de confiance. Nous developpons le concept d'atouts de connaissance liees a la reinstallation et rapportons comment ces atouts emergent a travers le developpement d'un rapport de confiance avant l'arrivee, modifient les attentes liees a la reinstallation des parrains et des parraines, et reduisent l'incertitude de la reinstallation.


This article reports on findings from two studies that examined the inclusion and exclusion of privately sponsored Syrian refugees in Ontario, Canada. In late 2016 and early 2017, we carried out a qualitative study of the Canadian Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program in the rural reception context of Northumberland County. We interviewed (109) participants from private sponsor groups, public agencies, and privately sponsored Syrian refugees during their first twelve months of resettlement. Our follow-up urban comparative study in late 2017 and early 2018 included ninety-five participants from private sponsor groups and privately sponsored Syrian refugees in the Greater Toronto Area, some of whom had completed their twelve months of sponsored resettlement. An unexpected finding emerged from the first study: those who had engaged in regular pre-arrival contact via digital applications such as Facebook, Skype, and Whatsapp reported more positive, "successful" resettlement experiences than those who had not. Our follow-up comparative study confirmed our original findings.

In this article we report on, and offer an analysis of, the findings from both studies. In analyzing the effects of pre-arrival, digitally supported, sponsor-sponsored contact on refugees' subjective experiences of resettlement success, we turned to Mollering's tripartite theory of trust-building, Horst and Grabska's work on uncertainty and refugeeness, and Sharratt and Usoro's observations on the role of trust in distinguishing between information and knowledge. Their work helped us to develop two concepts: the "digital third space of refugee reception" and "resettlement knowledge assets." We demonstrate that when pre-arrival, sponsor-sponsored exchanges occur in co-created, digital "third spaces of reception," trust can flourish and information can become "resettlement knowledge assets" that modify the resettlement expectations of both sponsors and sponsored, reduce resettlement uncertainty, and enhance subjective experiences of resettlement success.

Trust, Refuge, and Communication

The study of trust is a key area of social scientific enquiry. (1) Trust generally exhibits situational characteristics in which two or more parties engage in a mutually accepted relationship where the future outcomes of their transactions are unknown. The uncertainty of future outcomes connotes the degree of risk associated with the condition of reliance between the parties involved. As a potential influence on, and outcome of, individual interaction, social group engagement, and as a generalized state of a given society, trust is an asset.

National citizens who place greater trust in one another have more efficient public institutions and experience higher rates of economic growth. (2) Trust is involved in starting a business and performing voluntary work. (3) Trusting individuals are healthier and happier. (4) Ljunije has demonstrated that the "inherited trust" of second-generation immigrants is positively correlated with economic and educational success, significant even after controlling for additional first-generation influences such as income per capita and institutions. (5) Trust has profound implications for understanding forced migration and is fundamental to the experiences of refugees. (6) The dissolution and restoration of trust lies at the core of conflict-induced displacement. (7) While a "trust deficit" cannot be generalized to all refugees, a shortage of social trust is embedded in the experience of conflict-induced displacement. (8)

Recent work draws attention to the trust involved in refugee institution interactions; (9) the relationship between the sociocultural context of countries of origin and the degree of social trust in exile; (10) the role of displacement/conflict events in establishing fear and trust in exile; (11) and the effect of conflict-induced trauma on refugees' social trust, sense of belonging, and community integration in exile. (12) Hynes's study of asylum seekers in England notes that refugees "mistrust and are mistrusted at many levels in both industrialized and developing countries," and that once lost, trust is difficult to restore. (13) Of the four forms of trust--social, political, institutional and restorative---that Hynes identifies, restorative trust--"the process by which an individual regains social, political, or institutional trust"--is particularly difficult to achieve. (14) There are important considerations related to trust with respect to differences between refugees and migrants and their descendants. In both cases, third-country resettlement often entails entry into host cultures of mistrust. (15) But, especially in the case of refugees who flee conflict, mistrust is often an appropriate response that can enhance the feeling of security. (16)

While there is an informative body of academic research on private sponsorship, (17) there is a significant lack of in-depth work on how the complexity of sponsor-sponsored interaction--especially with regard to restorative trust--might positively or negatively affect resettlement. The Canadian Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSRP) provides a unique opportunity to investigate the dynamic of trust/mistrust in refugee-host relations, PSRP formalizes a state-sanctioned "private" relationship between "sponsors" and "sponsored" who interact regularly during the first twelve months of resettlement. Sponsor group "hosts" are expected to help sponsored "refugees" attain self-sufficiency within one year of sponsorship. Both refugee and host are placed in direct, formalized, interactive relationships. In the refugee-host dynamic of PSRP-initiated resettlement, citizen hosts have not been party to the initial trust-eroding conflict that refugees experience. The refugee-host relationship is not reconciliatory in the strict definition adhered to by scholars of conflict-resolution. Nevertheless, it is a relationship in which one party (arguably) has greater power than the other. Given that trust entails cooperation, (18) the power dynamic occasioned by the charitable responses of Canadians with full citizenship rights towards non-citizen refugees has the potential to undermine or even erode restorative trust. The interactive sponsor-sponsored relationship therefore offers a micro-level lens into the dynamic of trust-building in refugee-host relations.

Mollering's tripartite theory of trust-building, including interpretation, expectation, and suspension, is instructive. (19) Expectation is derived from a combination of interpretation and the suspension of the unknowable: "Bracketing the unknowable" makes "interpretative knowledge momentarily knowable." (20) A trust-control duality is important in drawing out how the contingency of future outcomes, which can lead to a state of dependency between unequal actors, is countered by trust. (21) Mollering's theory resonates with sponsor-sponsored pre-arrival communication in three ways. First, "uncertainty" is a basic feature of displacement and exile. As Horst and Grabska note, "Uncertainty, in its meaning of imperfect knowledge and the unpredictability of the future, is central to studies that theorize conflict-induced displacement, transit, and refugeeness." (22) Uncertainty related to the unknowable outcome of future events conveys precarity, but in relation to resettlement it also suggests the impossibility of knowing where one will end up. What are the socio-cultural conditions, economic opportunities, and political climate of reception? What characteristics, beliefs, and attitudes do sponsors display? Pre-arrival...

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