World eyes Canada’s successful private refugee sponsorship program

World Today

People around the world want to know what they can do to help ease the Syrian refugee crisis. Many are looking to Canada for ideas.

The country has the oldest and most well-known private refugee sponsorship program in the world.

CGTN’s Karina Huber has more from Toronto.

Ali and Fozida Alhasan left Aleppo, Syria with their parents and two siblings in 2013. They’ve been living in Toronto for 18 months. Their goals are simple.

“We have to make friends, make work. Make hope,” said Ali Alhasan.

It’s been tough. They came to North America speaking no English. But now their younger brother is at summer camp, and both of them have jobs. Ali works at a Halal meat shop.

“Now I am hairdresser,” Fozida Al Hasan said. “I work for hairdresser. Maybe I think for future, I can have my own salon.”

The Alhasans were sponsored by Canadian journalist Valerie Pringle, who got involved around the time a drowned Syrian boy washed up on the beach in Turkey. It caught the world’s attention.

“The situation was so dire and so distressing,” said Pringle. “I had been to Syria. I felt a connection that way, and you just thought as a human being how can you not step in?”

Private sponsors commit to financing the resettlement of their refugee family for one year.

Pringle needed to raise $30,000. Within a week she had raised $130,000. Demand to sponsor a family was strong.

“We’d get an emailing saying these families are available and almost by the time you could reply, they would say ‘I’m sorry, they’re taken,’” Pringle said.

Canada’s private refugee program first emerged in the 1970’s when the Vietnamese were fleeing their country in boats.

Since then, more than 275,000 refugees have arrived in Canada through the private program.

Studies have shown that refugees sponsored privately are far more likely to become financially independent than those resettled by the government.

Dr. Martin Mark said the government inadvertently incentivizes refugees not to work.

“In the government program, they put them on an automatic entitlement monthly support, and that doesn’t help because it discourages people to gain independence,” Mark said.

In the private program funds are cut off after a year. They also get a group of Canadians as mentors and guides.

This marks the first month that the Alhasan’s are not being supported financially by Pringle’s team.

“So far so good. They’re on their own,” Pringle said.

With the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Canada’s unique private refugee sponsorship program has caught the world’s attention. More than 13 countries—including Australia, Spain and Japan—have made inquiries into how to implement similar programs, and in the U.K., a similar program was launched.

It remains to be seen whether citizens from other countries will be as embracing of refugees as they are in Canada.