Sponsoring Refugees

1. Overview

In Canada, refugees may be sponsored directly by the Government as Government Assisted Refugees (GARs), by groups of individuals, as Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) or, a combination.


2. Government Assisted Refugees

Every year, the Canadian government sponsors a number of refugees referred to it by the UNHCR. The decision on who will be referred for resettlement is made by the UNHCR office in the refugee’s country of asylum and not by UNHCR in Canada.

The UNHCR is a United Nations program with, the mandate, amongst others, to assist refugees in resettlement to a third country. But, the UNHCR can only assist a small fraction of the world’s refugees:

  • The number of refugees requiring assistance far exceeds UNHCR’s capacity to to register them, let alone, help them
  • Numerous countries do not recognize the UN Convention on Refugees and disallow the registration of refugees by the UNHCR as a deterrent to the influx of refugees
  • In many countries, refugees who have entered the country illegally (i.e., most refugees), are detained as criminals under inhumane conditions, out of reach of the UNHCR
  • Only a very small percentage of the refugees recognized by the UNHCR are ever accepted for resettlement by a host country

The government of Canada claims it resettled 23,523 [government assisted] refugees in 2016. More up-to-date figures have not been made public yet.

The actual settlement of government assisted refugees is subcontracted by the government to Refugee Resettlement Agencies, where the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) is the sole resettlement agency on Vancouver Island.


3. Privately Sponsored Refugees

Unique in the world, Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program has allowed Canadians to offer protection and shelter to more than 275,000 refugees since its beginning in 1979. The program allows groups or organizations (faith based, cultural, settlement agencies, etc.) to assist refugees resettle in Canada by supporting them for a period of, typically, one year.

There are currently three options for privately sponsoring refugees in Canada: Through Sponsorship Agreement Holders constituent groups, a Groups of Five or Community Sponsorship group.

Private sponsorship in Canada was, originally, a visionary program based on two core principles:

  • ADDITIONALITY: Privately sponsored refugees are over and above the refugees resettled by the government (Government Assisted Refugees). Canadians want to know that their government is fulfilling its responsibility, on behalf of all Canadians, to protect refugees through resettlement, and that any refugees they sponsor are additional to those resettled by the government.
  • NAMING: Sponsors can propose the individual refugees they wish to resettle. Naming means that Canadians can respond to the needs of individual refugees or particular refugee communities that concern them.

Despite its historical success, the Program has been facing dramatic changes and challenges in recent years and these core principles are no longer being honoured by the Canadian government:

  • The government is dramatically restricting the number of privately sponsored refugees allowed into the country by “capping” their numbers (i.e. quotas).
  • Government processing times for refugees from certain areas (i.e., Africa) have become inhumanely long (6 years with no guarantee of success), discouraging “naming” refugees from these areas.


4. Combination or Blended Visa Office-Referred Program

The Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program matches refugees identified for resettlement by the UNHCR with private sponsors in Canada.

  • The UNHCR identifies the refugees.
  • The Government of Canada gives up to six months of income support.
  • Private sponsors give another six months of financial support. They also give up to a year of social and emotional support.

While the 6 month income support is a significant factor, the major appeal of the BVOR program is that the refugees have already been assessed and have met the Canadian government’s resettlement criteria, making them travel ready. They just need to be matched with a sponsor before they can travel to Canada. This reduces their wait times from years to months.




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