[Individual articles from the Fall 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]
Resettlement of refugees from a country of asylum to a third country is one of three durable solutions for refugees, alongside voluntary repatriation and local integration. In Canada, the federal government’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program allows private citizens to sponsor refugees through organizations who hold sponsorship agreements with the government. While the central purpose of the program is the successful resettlement of refugees, a recent evaluation of MCC Manitoba’s work with its sponsoring groups shows that it also presents an opportunity to promote mutually transformative relationships as these groups learn what it means to accompany newcomers.
In late 2015, I conducted an evaluation of the interaction between what sponsors bring to the resettlement experience and the role of MCC Manitoba’s migration and resettlement program in helping sponsors navigate the resettlement process. Constituent groups that sponsor refugees have significant influence over the sponsorship process and settlement outcomes. MCC staff work through these sponsorship groups to serve refugees being resettled in Canada.
When asked to name the key challenges faced in the sponsorship and resettlement process, sponsors invariably turn to the practical and instrumental details of resettlement. The first weeks and months are intense and require daily hands-on support, from obtaining health cards and social insurance numbers to teaching newcomers how to run their appliances and take public transportation. While sponsors have access to checklists to cover off these tasks and prepare for them in advance of the refugees’ arrival, more complex variables are at play the instant the newcomers step off the plane. Navigating cultural differences and misunderstandings, managing the expectations of both newcomers and sponsors and learning how different personalities and experiences will impact resettlement are all factors that cannot be predicted in advance.
Many sponsors recognize that their responses to these unpredictable variables are key to successful settlement outcomes and at the same time often feel ill-equipped in their responses. This is particularly the case when attempting to help newcomers process the trauma they have experienced. Groups that have participated in multiple sponsorships have also gone through their own process of grappling with doing what they can to ensure a smooth resettlement and allowing newcomers to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. Previous research has identified the need to exercise caution in the language used to characterize newcomers so as not to negatively impact their ability to resettle successfully (Lamba and Krahn, 2003). Instead, the relationship between sponsor and newcomer should be framed as one of sharing and partnership that recognizes the years of education, professional experience and social networks that newcomers bring with them when they resettle (McKinnon, 2009; Lanphier, 2003).
MCC staff have much to offer in supporting constituent groups as they accompany newcomers and help these recently resettled newcomers make a successful transition to life in Canada. To be sure, constituent groups sponsoring refugees will naturally learn certain lessons over the course of the minimum one-year commitment they make to the resettlement process. Sponsors learn to expect the unexpected and to have their worldviews challenged and expanded. However, sponsors also express openness to engage in deeper planning for and walking through the sponsorship process. Specifically, sponsors have indicated that they want to understand at the outset of the resettlement process what the evaluation criteria might be for a successful resettlement. This provides an entry point for MCC staff to provide information on best practices for how sponsor groups can work together with newcomers on goal setting, to help sponsor groups understand their own cultural biases and positions of power and to emphasize the relational aspects of sponsorship. The evaluation of a sponsorship can also include mechanisms that pull in feedback from sponsors and provide them an opportunity to reflect not only on the outcome of the resettlement, but also on their supporting role in the process. These learnings can in turn inform future sponsorships.
Time and again, sponsors have identified building meaningful relationships as the most transformative part of the sponsorship process. Studies of past sponsorship initiatives have shown that, despite the dependence that others have argued is embedded in the program, most newcomers were able to establish relationships with sponsors that were trusting enough to overcome the challenges in the process (Neuwirth and Clark, 1981). Given its nearly four decades of experience with refugee sponsorship, MCC is well placed to encourage sponsoring groups to move to deeper levels of engagement with the individuals and families they sponsor. Through this support, refugee sponsorship has the potential to be a mutually transformative process of integration and community building.
Stephanie Dyck is an MCC humanitarian relief and disaster recovery coordinator.
Lamba, Navjot K. and Henry Krahn. “Social Capital and Refugee Resettlement: The Social Networks of Refugees in Canada.” Journal of International Migration and Integration. 4/3 (Summer 2003): 335-360.
Lanphier, Michael. “Sponsorship: Organizational, Sponsor, and Refugee Perspectives.” Journal of International Migration and Integration. 4/2 (Spring 2003): 237-256.
McKinnon, Sara L. “‘Bringing New Hope and New Life’: The Rhetoric of Faith-Based Refugee Resettlement Agencies.” Howard Journal of Communications, 20/4 (2009): 313-332.
Neuwirth, Gertrud and Lynn Clark. “Indochinese Refugees in Canada: Sponsorship and Adjustment.” International Migration Review. 15/1 and 15/2 (Spring and Summer 1981): 131-140.