Refugee Sponsorship Training Program

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1. Introduction

Bringing refugees to a safe and peaceful country is one of the primary motivations of sponsors, yet the quality of settlement assistance offered to refugees upon their arrival is equally important. Sponsors must draft a settlement plan as part of their sponsorship, and implementation and follow-up should be included in this plan. If a sponsoring group does not have a mechanism for checking whether a settlement plan is realized, it can result in unmet settlement needs and lead to a possible sponsorship breakdown or default. Monitoring the settlement plan and its implementation is a key responsibility of each sponsoring group following the refugees’ arrival.

According to the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) agreement signed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the SAHs, both parties are responsible for monitoring whether or not a sponsorship undertaking is effective. The SAH is expected to monitor the activities of its Constituent Groups (CGs) and co-sponsors, while IRCC monitors the activities of the SAH and its Constituent Groups.

While the SAH agreement does not itself include a definition of monitoring, one popular definition is “supervising activities in progress to ensure they are on-course and on-schedule in meeting  objectives and performance targets.” In the private sponsorship of refugees, to monitor is to ensure that the activities listed in a sponsorship undertaking and settlement plan follow the agreed schedule and contribute to the successful settlement of sponsored refugees.

2. Monitoring by a SAH

According to the SAH agreement:

“A SAH is responsible for monitoring its Constituent Groups (CGs) or co-sponsors and their individual undertakings. The purpose of monitoring will be to provide support to the sponsor and the refugee in meeting respective commitments and responsibilities. When issues and problems arise which could lead to possible breakdown, the SAH will work cooperatively with IRCC to resolve them.”

Those SAHs which authorize CGs to work on their behalf, or to jointly sponsor with a co-sponsor, must also monitor them to ensure that they deliver their sponsorship commitments and responsibilities.

Monitoring allows SAHs to provide support and act in a timely way to avoid sponsorship breakdowns. For instance, if the SAH realizes that its CG and co-sponsor are not meeting their sponsorship commitments, it can offer training and support to help them with their sponsorship work. Following this, if the CGs or co-sponsors are still not carrying out their duties, the SAH may take other action such as finding an alternative sponsoring group.

3. Current Practices

The SAH agreement does not stipulate how SAHs should monitor their CGs or co-sponsors. Since SAHs are at liberty to set their own criteria on recognizing and authorizing their CGs, one can argue that they also have the freedom to design their own monitoring schemes. The diversity in size and composition of SAHs makes it difficult to develop a one-size-fits-all monitoring mechanism. Anecdotal information shows that there are a range practices being followed by SAHs. These include:

Revisiting the Settlement Plan

A SAH can revisit the settlement plan with its CG and co-sponsor either shortly before or shortly after the expected arrival of the refugees, preferably with the refugees’ full participation. This might be as soon as the refugee passes the selection interview; after they submit the medical check forms; when the notice of arrival is received; or a few days after their arrival in Canada.

Some refugees arrive in Canada years or months after the original sponsorship applications and settlement plan have been submitted or approved. For this reason, changes in the composition of the sponsoring group or the sponsored refugees should be reviewed. For example, some members of the sponsoring group may have moved to a different location; are no longer available; are no longer able to carry out their duties because of sickness or incapacitation; or have backed out of the sponsorship commitment.

The SAH should plan to revisit the settlement plan and ensure that the original commitments are still feasible. This also allows members of the sponsoring group to renew their vow to honour the original responsibilities; to update the settlement plan; and to modify responsibilities due to the changed composition of a refugee family, such as a new spouse or child.

Revising the settlement plan is also helpful during the course of the sponsorship if unexpected issues arise that affect the enactment of the original agreement. This may take place if a conflict arises among members of the sponsoring group, or if the original CG is unable to fulfill its undertaking and the SAH needs to find an alternative group.

  1. Home Visits

SAHs may want to pay a visit to resettled refugees’ homes to observe their living conditions. The visit could happen at the early stage of the sponsorship, once the sponsored refugees is housed in permanent accommodation. Such a visit allows the SAH to see whether the accommodation is appropriate for the family’s size and the needs of children, young women, and the elderly; whether the furniture and utensils meet Canadian standards; and whether the housing is safe and fit to live in during both cold and hot seasons. Visiting more than once, without being intrusive, may be a good way for SAHs to ensure that the sponsorship is being carried out in both the word and spirit of the settlement plan, and to find out if the family has any concerns.

iii. Individual Intervention

A SAH has the right and an obligation to intervene and take corrective actions to avoid sponsorship breakdown. A sponsorship breakdown might happen if the CG or co-sponsor are unable to live up to their commitments due to interpersonal conflict or for other reasons. In the case of a conflict, SAHs should find a way to help resolve the conflict. If, despite the best efforts of a SAH, the sponsoring group cannot continue its work because the conflict is entrenched, the SAH may need to look for another sponsoring group to salvage the sponsorship. Both the sponsored refugees and the SAH will benefit if sponsorship breakdowns are avoided. If the SAH cannot resolve a conflict, it can seek the support of service providers such as a community mediation service, or contact IRCC for guidance.

  1. Survey

Some SAHs have developed surveys to gather information about the settlement experiences of refugees and sponsors. For example, one SAH distributes two surveys: one that is filled out by the sponsored refugee during the initial stage of the sponsorship, and another that both parties complete at the end of the sponsorship. This gives the SAH some idea of how the CG and co-sponsor have met or tried to meet the refugees’ needs and honour their commitments during the undertaking.

Just as every SAH and its CG and co-sponsor is different and every sponsorship is unique, there is no single way to monitor sponsorships. The above-mentioned practices, and others, can help sponsors determine whether the sponsorship commitments are being met on schedule and if the settlement experience is meeting the refugees’ needs.

An open-door policy on the part of the SAH towards its CGs, co-sponsors and refugees will foster successful settlement and the smooth execution of the settlement plan. The parties should be encouraged to contact the SAH with any issues. A collegial working relationship with CGs, co-sponsors and the sponsored refugees during the good and bad times of the sponsorship will allow the SAH act in a timely way to avoid sponsorship breakdown.

4. Monitoring by IRCC

As mentioned earlier, IRCC has an obligation to monitor SAHs, their CGs and co-sponsors to ensure that they follow their sponsorship undertakings and meet the needs of sponsored refugees.

As the SAH agreement says:

“IRCC is responsible for monitoring the SAH, their CGs or Cosponsors and individual undertakings. The purpose of monitoring will be to provide support to the sponsor and the refugee in meeting their respective commitments and responsibilities. IRCC will ensure that the monitoring process is communicated with SAHs and will work cooperatively with the SAH to anticipate and/or resolve problems or issues that may arise.”

After the arrival of a sponsored refugee, the local IRCC office monitors sponsoring groups and refugees “to verify that the sponsoring group is fulfilling its responsibilities including financial and moral support, and settlement assistance as outlined in the settlement plan and in the sponsorship undertaking.” As the need for monitoring may arise for a variety of reasons, IRCC may take a variety of actions to deal with specific issues over the course of a sponsorship.

Some of these actions may include, but are not limited to:

  • interviewing refugees
  • requesting refugees and/or CGs to fill out a survey
  • engaging in mediation and conflict resolution to avoid sponsorship breakdown
  • taking various actions to ensure sponsors carry out the sponsorship duties outlined in the sponsorship undertaking and settlement plan
  • taking necessary actions in case of sponsorship breakdown and defaults