Justin Trudeau on the World Stage – Refugees

Corporeality VI: Justin Trudeau on the World Stage – Refugees


Howard Adelman

I intended this morning to discuss the theoretical basis for the differences between Canada and the U.S., and, more particularly, between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama as military decision-making. However, yesterday I had an opportunity to participate in a webinar on refugee resettlement in Europe that provided a unique opportunity to discuss Justin Trudeau’s initial exposure and effect on the international stage on refugee policy. A discussion of that webinar provides a great deal of excellent concrete material for the thesis that I am developing.

Yesterday Canada set a date for ending its role in bombing missions in Syria and Iraq – February 22. The withdrawal of military fighter jets has to be understood in terms of the Canadian refugee program and Trudeau’s efforts to resurrect the Canadian brand as a humanitarian in foreign affairs on the world stage. Canada is the leading country in private refugee sponsorship. There is an opportunity for Canada to serve as an exemplar to other states. We could leverage our own roll enormously if we managed to get more countries to emulate the Canadian program. But Trudeau’s role as a leader on the world stage on the refugee issue will be a much harder sell if he is seen as opting out of other international responsibilities to combat evil and those responsible for producing the refugee crisis in Syria in the first place. I will revisit Canada’s decision to withdraw the six Hornet fighters from bombing missions in Iraq and Syria in my subsequent comparisons of Trudeau versus Obama as decision-makers on military policy, but it is first necessary to show Canada’s role as a leader in refugee resettlement in the world.

The webinar was advertised to invited participants as “addressing the refugee crisis in Europe by using private sponsorship.” I was invited to participate – that is, listen in and send in questions if I wished. The formal title of the webinar was, “Scaling Up Resettlement: The Role of Private Sponsorship Programmes in Addressing the Refugee Crisis.” As part of the pre-information, the webinar was described as follows:

“As the European Union considers scaling up plans to resettle refugees from Turkey and other countries of first asylum to improve protection, as well as reduce pressures to travel illicitly, limit the power of criminal networks and develop more equitable responsibility sharing among EU Member States, the three speakers were asked to address the question of how private sponsorship programmes for refugees could possibly enhance outcomes and spread costs.” The program in Canada, as well as the one developed in Australia over the last two years, and the one initiated in 15 of the 16 German länder, were cited as precedents, but in the discussion, the clear and outstanding precedent was Canada’s program of  “private sponsorship that permits private individuals, groups, corporations, and other entities to sponsor individual refugees for resettlement and accept financial responsibility for them for a period of time.”

Panelists were expected to explore how these programs, if implemented or expanded in EU countries, might provide an additional safe and orderly channel for refugees to gain protection and become part of the broader response to the current refugee crisis.

Elizabeth Collett, Director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe and Senior Advisor to MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, chaired the session. Before opening the session to questions that had been sent in, we listened to presentations of about twelve minutes each from Judith Kumin, Madeline Garlick and Tim Finch.

In 1979, Judith Kumin was involved with Indochinese refugees as a UNHCR representative and later headed UNHCR’s Orderly Departure from Vietnam and, subsequently, the resettlement of Indochinese refugees out of Thailand. Like Madeline Garlick, she also served in former Yugoslavia as UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Belgrade. She has been a UNHCR Representative to a number of countries (Germany, Benelux, the EU), but particularly Canada where we got to know her and when she became intimately acquainted with her experience of the Canadian private sponsorship program at the time. She was widely acknowledged as an outstanding UNHCR representative. When she returned to UNHCR Headquarters, she directed Sadako Ogata’s public relations office. She concluded her career as UNHCR’s Director for Europe and authored UNHCR’s State of the World’s Refugees 2012. Judith has taught at Carleton University and currently teaches international human rights at the University of New Hampshire (Manchester) while researching the credibility of asylum claims lodged by unaccompanied children. She authored the December 2015 report:



Madeline Garlick complemented Judith Kumin’s presentation. Madeline is a refugee lawyer from Victoria, Australia who is currently a Guest Researcher and PhD candidate at the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands. She is also an International Migration Initiative (IMI) Fellow with the Open Society Foundations leading a project on the future of asylum in the European Union with Migration Policy Institute Europe. Previously, she had been Head of the Policy and Legal Support Unit in the Bureau for Europe of the Office of UNHCR from 2004-13 where she was responsible for liaison with the EU. Before that, she was on the UNHCR’s negotiating team on Cyprus and, before that, worked as the UNHCR representative on the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina. For purposes of brevity, I have consolidated the two presentations and filled in where necessary from Judith’s report.

The object of Judith’s report was to provide a possible additional option in the EU dealing with refugees “consistent with the European Union’s interests, values, and obligations through research on challenges and options on asylum to inform the development of evidence-based policies and laws.” That option is private sponsorship of which the best known and oldest model is that of Canada. Readers will be surprised at how little the Canadian example pioneered over 36 years ago has been taken up by other countries. So it was a surprise and disappointment that there were no Canadian experts on the panel, but that may have been because the target audience was European.

If resettlement is defined as the selection and transfer of refugees from a state of first asylum to a third state that has agreed to admit them (versus relocation as the redistribution of refugees from one EU country to another), then Judith defined private sponsorship as a form of refugee resettlement in which the primary (not exclusive) responsibility for support – financial, social and emotional – is provided for a limited period of time, usually one year, by the private sector. More precisely, only the financial guarantee of support is limited to one year, but, may be shorter if refugees become self-sustaining earlier. Further, support in many forms, including financial, may go beyond the one year guarantee period.

The following benefits of private sponsorship were presented by Judith and her fellow panelists:

  • offers a safe and orderly means for refugees to achieve protection
  • serves as an alternative to irregular movements via a safe, orderly and legal channel
  • is a way for the private sector to demonstrate commitment
  • offers an opportunity to harness the will of the community
  • facilitates integration, especially in the provision of social capital
  • permits burden sharing and a way for EU countries to resettle refugees (half do not, and, with a few notable exceptions, the rest resettle very few)
  • develops a constituency of public support for refugee intake
  • is a way of expanding resettlement at reduced costs to the government (I think this claimed benefit is specious since a) there are settlement costs to government for private sponsors and, under a program of additionality, these costs are also in addition, and b) since private sponsorship provides public support for the government itself sponsoring more refugees, this too adds to the cost.)
  • if the principle of additionality is used, private sponsorship counters the argument that this is a form of offloading (in practice, it actually allows the government intake to be larger than it might otherwise have been).

Judith also included as a benefit of private sponsorship that it facilitates family reunification, but, as her report notes, there is an overlap between the two. Further, the use of private sponsorship for family reunification can crowd out the possibility of refugees in greater need from being sponsored within the target set by the government.

The panelists suggested that private sponsorship could vary in the following ways:

  • Status granted to refugees (temporary or permanent resettlement, though UNHCR does not like defining temporary protection as resettlement)
  • Entitlements
  • Who is eligible to sponsor
  • Who is eligible to be sponsored
  • Nature of sponsor’s obligations
  • The safety network
  • Procedures
  • Question of additionality
  • Built-in upfront systems of evaluation.

Judith in her report stated that, “Refugee resettlement is usually seen as a state-led activity.  Governments decide how many resettlement places they will offer, select the refugees they will take in, arrange for travel and initial reception, and provide settlement support. Private sponsorship arrangements, meanwhile, shift the primary responsibility for assisting resettled refugees from government to private actors. Private sponsors accept financial responsibility for resettled refugees for a specified period of time and provide other forms of support. In exchange, they are permitted to identify the refugee (or refugees) they propose to resettle, although the final decision on admission n rests with the government.”

Though the report is otherwise excellent, in this case those familiar with the Canadian private sponsorship program will recognize the flaws in this paragraph. Even in private sponsorship, resettlement remains a state-led activity re numbers, selection, transportation, and initial reception; private sponsorship normally substitutes most areas of support and assistance in integration. Secondly, permitting private sponsors to name sponsored refugees was a deviation from standard private sponsors when over time private sponsors began to act as fronts for family reunification, a pattern that became dominant when  Kumin was UNHCR representative in Ottawa, though in New Zealand’s and Argentina’s small programs, it is the main purpose of private sponsorship.

Judith included as the second essential feature of private sponsorship the option of naming the sponsored refugee. In Canada, that is NOT an essential feature. Nor is it a trade-off in return for assuming the responsibility of private sponsorship. In the first huge wave of Indochinese refugee sponsorship in the 1979-80 period, sponsors rarely named refugees they wanted to sponsor and the possibility of doing so was neither an incentive nor a gift from the government in return for their assuming the financial responsibility. Kumin writes as if this is the main form of private sponsorship when it was the deviant form that became the main form for a period as a means of family reunification using private sponsors. Perhaps Judith was influenced by countries like Ireland and Switzerland which have only experimented with private sponsorship in this form.

Further, Judith in the follow-up discussion said that civil society had taken the lead in Canada in 1979 in the private sponsorship of the Indochinese refugees. She has obviously not read my books or published articles. The Canadian government worked months at promoting private sponsorship before it was taken up with enthusiasm by the private sector. Then the government responded to that demonstrated enthusiasm when it did emerge with increased numbers of government-sponsored refugees. There is no evidence that civil society took the lead, although newspapers tended to report that the government only acted because it was pushed to do so by the media and the private sector. This was nonsense! More importantly, this myth detracts from the need to emphasize the importance of government leadership.

Judith said in her presentation during the webinar that her report dealt with refugee private sponsorship on a practical level because “too little was known”. In fact, there is a plethora of research on the benefits and deficiencies, inputs and outcomes of private versus government sponsorship. To name but a few conclusions, government-sponsored refugees have more options of English (or French) for second language training and more immediate opportunities to upgrade their skills. Private sponsored refugees generally enter the job market at a higher level. On the other hand, privately-sponsored refugees generally enter the job market much more quickly, in part because the private sponsors have a strong incentive for the refugees to become self-sufficient and in part because the private sponsors offer a network of connections to facilitate entry into the job market. At the end of a number of years (seven if I recall from one study), the level of employment between the two groups tends to converge. One of the most interesting differences is that, when surveys are done after the refugees were in Canada for ten years, private sponsored-refugees had close friends who were Canadian-born. Few government- sponsored refugees did.

The third panelist was Tim Finch who is a novelist (The House of Journalists) and former director of communications for the British Refugee Council. He heads the migration division of the Institute for Policy Research and has been part of a team pushing the UK government to develop some pilot projects on refugee sponsorship. He continues to write op-eds on refugee issues. He discussed how the British private sponsorship was shaping up and focused on the 6 October 2015 speech of the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, to the Conservative Party Congress reprinted in full in, The Independent.


Finch claimed that although the UK had been a laggard in refugee resettlement in general and the use of private sponsorship in particular, May’s statement at the Conservative Conference opened the opportunity for the UK to leap into the vanguard. May promised that, “We’ll develop a community sponsorship scheme, like those in Canada and Australia, to allow individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugees directly.” Unfortunately, Finch, when he strayed from the UK focus, made some misleading statements – such as contrasting the British system, which automatically entitles the refugees to benefits, which the Canadian system does not. Finch was possibly confusing asylum claimants with resettled refugees; the latter are entitled to the same benefits as all Canadians.

All this was against a background of a decidedly anti-immigrant and anti-asylum earned reputation by the Conservative government. Finch claimed that UK leadership on refugee resettlement was coming from the top from a Home Secretary not known for generosity towards refugees. That is an understatement for a Home Secretary who would boast in her speech to the Conservative Conference that the UK had “granted asylum to more than 5,000 Syrians in Britain” since the start of the Syrian War. Pathetic! Absolutely pathetic! She should hide her head in shame rather than boasting of allowing entry of a paltry 1,000 Syrian refugees per year.

Now the UK government promises to take in “20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament,” that is 5,000 per year. It is just more Harperism – sheer tokenism and not offset by the UK’s generous contributions to overseas Syrian refugee aid. The ideology of the UK government is clear: “the best way of helping the most people is not by bringing relatively small numbers of refugees to this country, but by working with the vast numbers who remain in the region,” as if one offsets the need to undertake the other. Further, her statement clearly suggests that if a UK private sponsorship program is initiated, it will not follow the principle of additionality, but the principle of substitution, for the government insists that immigration is still too high even though the intake has been cut in half.

May insisted that, “wherever possible, I want to offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain.” She implied that there will be an offset of refugees taken in from abroad to the extent asylum claims are reduced.  This could be interpreted to mean, the more domestic asylum claims are brought under control, the more refugees that can be resettled from abroad. This is what Stephen Harper seemed to promise to Canadians. It just was not true.

Finch suggested that the private sponsorship proposal might have been a way of sugaring the pill for an otherwise hardline policy. My reading of her speech was that it was complementary to the hard line and offered only tokenism in the way of refugee resettlement. Finch, if he had studied the Canadian development, would not have suggested that this initiative offered a way forward and an opportunity for the private sector to co-design a system for private sponsorship. The Canadian system was designed by the government and has been refined and redesigned by the government, though in both cases there has been private sector influence. But influence does not make one a co-designer. Finch pointed out that when UK universities offered scholarships to refugees, none were taken up. As one of the other panelists noted, Canada has a long history of WUSC Canada sponsoring refugees to attend Canadian universities and colleges. The program works in good part because of a committed government partner.

One of the romantic fallacies is that, relative to the government, the private sector plays a leadership role in promoting resettlement. It certainly does so in the promotion of resettlement by the private sector. But not in making as distinct from influencing policy.  The private sector making refugee resettlement policy is a myth. Much of my experience, research and writing on refugee resettlement exposed that myth. But the narrative continues to grow. The reality is that there is little private sponsorship without strong government leadership. Look at the period under Stephen Harper when the legislation and policies were all in place, but the systems were eviscerated and sponsors were subjected to inordinate delays and overwhelmed with lengthy forms that were mostly returned because of small mistakes. So Finch’s interpretation that May was inviting Brits “to devise a system and we will consider” simply falls into the trap of delays and half, no one-tenth, half-hearted measures. For Finch to suggest that this would be a good way for sponsors to “have control over the system that emerges” is just a pipe dream.

Though the webinar promised that the speakers “will also delve into key questions and challenges that should be considered in implementation, including who would be eligible to sponsor refugees, what would sponsors’ responsibilities entail, who could be sponsored, and how would applicants be chosen, what entitlements and status might sponsored refugees get, and more political questions as to whether such initiatives merely represent a divestment of government responsibilities onto an overstretched volunteer sector, in fact, other than these categories being mentioned, they were barely touched upon.

There was one other reaction I had and I would be curious to know if anyone else who participated in the webinar had the same response. There was too much emphasis on gradually “scaling up,” on “managing expectations,” on avoiding the risks of disappointment” and the need to have processes in place for security clearances, selection, transportation, etc. The recent initiative of the Justin Trudeau government belies that. Even though, as I wrote above, the Canadian resettlement apparatus had been allowed to grow rusty and had been severely weakened in terms of human resources, Trudeau demonstrated that it was possible to gear up in very short order. Further, if the government keeps up to and responds to any increase in private sponsorship, there is no need to manage expectations. That is only needed when there is a government interest in limiting the intake by the private sector. So advice to “take time,” to carefully plan and prepare, easily becomes an excuse for a moving like a tortoise.

Tomorrow: Biblical and Mediaeval Theoretic Foundations for Military Policy