2.B Sponsors: From Mobilization to Engagement
B.2 What other options to support refugees are available to private actors?
(i) What types of activities can individuals engage in to welcome refugees and help them integrate into their communities?
How Canada Does It
Individuals may be able to undertake sponsorship-type responsibilities at varying degrees with established sponsoring groups. Some individuals may not have the financial or settlement capacity to directly sponsor a refugee family, but wish to support and welcome refugees once they arrive.
Many community organizations that engage in welcoming and supporting refugees have established “Buddy” programs to match community members with newly arrived refugees to provide them with friendship, emotional support, and orientation to life in Canada. Buddy systems may also be set up in places such as schools or workplaces, so refugees have someone to turn to for advice, assistance, or information on life in their settlement communities. Such programs are modeled on Canada’s former HOST Program, in which settlement agencies matched volunteers to newly-arrived Government-Assisted Refugees or asylum-seekers to assist their new “friends” to cope with the challenges of moving to a new country. The HOST Program has now been integrated into the Community Connections Program offered in many municipalities across Canada.
In addition to providing direct, in-person support to refugees, individuals may also wish to hold charity drives to collect food, clothing, and other items for newly arrived refugees. Many individuals may also provide monetary donations to organizations and groups supporting or sponsoring refugees.
Canada’s former HOST Program connected newly-arrived refugees with Canadian “friends” to help refugees adjust to their new lives in Canada. The HOST Program tasked service provider organizations to select and train community volunteers, assess refugees’ needs, match volunteers with refugees, and organize group activities. The expected outcomes included:
- SETTLEMENT AND ADAPTATION: Meeting refugees’ basic needs, lowering settlement-related stress, official language acquisition, gaining knowledge about available services and resources, and learning about their community;
- COMMUNITY, SOCIAL, AND PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING: The development of social and professional contacts and networks, and refugees’ ability to take advantage of those networks;
- THE TWO-WAY EXCHANGE: Developing a mutual understanding of refugees’ and volunteers’ respective cultures, leading to refugees engaging in community life and feeling a sense of belonging in the longer term. Through this exchange volunteers become more knowledgeable about refugees’ challenges and their contributions to Canada.
While the HOST Program is no longer operating, non-government groups have organized similar initiatives to match Canadian volunteers with resettled refugees. For example, former volunteers of Matthew House in Toronto initiated a “Buddy-Up Program” to foster connections between refugees and community volunteers. When considering starting up a similar program, organizations must ensure they have capacity to recruit, screen/select, match, and monitor volunteers. One challenge in Canada has been the stretched capacity of the settlement sector to respond to the volume of people wanting to volunteer directly with refugees.