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This article was updated more than 6 months ago. Some information may be outdated.

In 1979, not long after the US and its allies’ exit from Vietnam and the eponymous war in that region, Canada did something remarkable: it said to thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” fleeing the regime at home – you are welcome here.

And thus, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program was born.

An initial target to resettle 12,000 Vietnamese was increased to 50,000, primarily down to the fact that Canadians were opening their hearts, minds, and wallets to welcome those in need. The PSR program allowed private community sponsorship groups to sponsor refugees, with the numbers to be matched by the government, thereby easing the fiscal concerns of some cabinet ministers and citizens.

In the four decades that have passed since, Canada has resettled approximately 300,000 refugees through the PSR program. Hundreds of communities across Canada have benefited by coming together to welcome privately sponsored refugees, including communities that welcomed some of the 46,700 Syrian refugees who arrived in 2016 alone.

Now, Ireland wants to learn how this is all done. Earlier this year, a delegation of eight representatives from Ireland came to Ottawa to gain inspiration from Canada’s PSR program.

Over the course of five days, participants worked toward designing the structure for a private sponsorship program tailored for Ireland, with discussions focused on sponsorship mobilization, refugee selection, and language learning. The group also examined refugee resettlement with a Canadian sponsorship group and visited local immigrant settlement agencies.

They wrapped up the week with a dinner on Parliament Hill with Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, himself a Somalia-born refugee who arrived in Canada as a teen before ultimately obtaining citizenship and a seat at the cabinet table.

Canada promotes community-based refugee sponsorship to resettlement countries around the world through a dynamic coalition called the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI). The working meeting with the Irish delegation was organized by the GSRI, Canada’s Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) and the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub, as well as Ireland’s Department of Justice and Equality. According to IRCC, meeting participants will gather again soon to discuss next steps.

Under its multi-year immigration plan, Canada plans on granting permanent residence to close to 140,000 refugees between 2018 and 2020, of whom around 57,000 will be privately sponsored.

Ireland’s targets are far more modest than that – a total of 760 refugees arrived in the republic in 2016, with the government having acknowledged that a target to bring more in 2017 was not as successful as it could have been. There were some success stories, however, notably the County Roscommon community of Ballaghaderreen, which was recently presented with the ‘Community Group of the Year’ award by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and author, Cathy Kelly, for the inspirational altruism and community spirit shown as it welcomed 240 refugees. The town’s arrivals were mostly young Syrian families fleeing their war-torn country.

As the European Union struggles to convince some member state governments to commit to a relocation initiative, Ireland is showing that governments can also do things their own way by learning from the Canadian experience.

The GRSI has produced a handy guidebook for individuals, communities, and organisations wishing to learn more about the program. See the guidebook here.

About the author

Hugo O'Doherty profile picture

Hugo O'Doherty

Canadian Immigration & Integration Specialist
Hugo O’Doherty has over a decade of experience and research in Canadian immigration, establishing him as a recognized authority on immigrant integration and adaptation. His personal and professional experiences with immigration have made him an expert on the practical aspects of successfully moving to and settling in Canada.
Read more about Hugo O'Doherty
Citation "Irish delegation learns how to settle refugees the Canadian way." Moving2Canada. . Copy for Citation


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