Why so many Canadians privately sponsor Syrian refugees
Thursday, March 3, 2016

CANADA's three main parties indulged in a curious game of one-upmanship during last year’s general election campaign. Each boasted that if they were elected they would bring in great numbers of Syrian refugees. The Conservatives pledged 10,000 over three years. The New Democrats said they would take in 10,000 by the end of the year and 9,000 annually after that. Both were trumped by the Liberal promise of 25,000 by January 1st. The Liberals won and hit their target on February 27th. This was two months late and they were only able to fulfill their promise because individual Canadians stepped forward to sponsor 11,000 of the total 26,166 Syrians who arrived after the new government took office on November 4th.

Private sponsorship of refugees began in Canada in 1978 amid another refugee crisis: the Indochinese fleeing from Vietnam after the war. Media coverage of desperate "boat people" helped overcome a public reluctance to deal with what was initially regarded as an American problem. After Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore said they could take no more people, Canada agreed to welcome 60,000 over three years, as long as each government-supported refugee was matched with one who was privately sponsored. By the end of of 1980, 60,049 had arrived under what was called Operation Lifeline; just over half were sponsored by private groups. Since then more than 200,000 have come to Canada under the programme. The conflict in Syria has set a similar chain of events in motion.

There are obvious advantages for the government in promoting private sponsorship. Private groups shoulder the bulk of the costs of settling such refugees and sustaining them for a year (at an estimated cost of at least C$27,000 for a family of four). Areas of the country where the population is declining or aging rapidly, such as the province of New Brunswick, are especially keen for new blood. And politicians can give themselves and Canadians a pat on the back for a humane response to a wretched situation. “We’re going in the opposite direction from many countries,” said John McCallum, the immigration minister, as he welcomed a group of newcomers at Toronto airport on February 29th. There are advantages for the refugees too. Research indicates that privately-sponsored refugees become more successful than their government-sponsored counterparts or asylum seekers who arrive under their own steam, perhaps because they have a support group from the moment they arrive. Not everyone is a fan. Stephen Harper, the former Conservative prime minister, garnered some public support last year when he raised the spectre of Islamic terrorists infiltrating Canada under the guise of refugees.

 

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Source: The Economist