I, We or All: A Review Essay on Refugees – Part IV of V: Foreign Policy as a Motive for Accepting Refugees

Miliband offered four other reasons for accepting refugees having more to do with international relations than domestic reasons. The development of new international institutions and instruments for sanctioning and delivering global responsibilities beginning with the Atlantic Charter during WWII was one. On this Miliband seemed to be on firmer ground and it accords with Molloy’s tale of the postwar development of Canadian refugee policy. I will come back to the fourth reason in a moment, but the fifth and sixth reasons, the search for security in an interconnected world where refugees were viewed as a source of instability and the strategic interest in winning friends by sharing the burden of first receiving countries least able to support a large refugee influx, both seem a propos and in accordance with the narrative of Mike Molloy and his co-authors, Peter Duschinsky, Kurt F. Jensen and Robert J. Shalka.

What about the fourth reason, that a state accepted refugees when they were the result of foreign policy mistakes of the state taking in the refugees? “Among the reasons for giving them (the Vietnamese boat people) refuge was the United States’ role in the Vietnam War.” (Miliband 55) But why was Canada so forthcoming? It had stayed out of that war. Most Canadians were critical of the whole war effort. In fact, I used to believe, until I read Molloy’s book, that from 1975-77, Canada offered only token support for resettling the refugees to appease our partners more than out of any concern for the refugees. Canada only became involved in 1978 when government officials became convinced that the refugees were not fleeing because they had worked for or allied themselves with the Americans, but because of the intolerance of the government. That proved not to be the explanation for the Canadian initiatives.

When Canada evacuated its embassy in April 1975, the mission was small, lacked any security arrangements to deal with the huge mobs seeking to escape and would or could not waive the requirement that Vietnamese wishing to leave with them would have to have a passport and exit permit. Canadian officials claimed that the South Vietnamese government enforced these requirements at gun point until the very last minute. But the American evidence and other accounts indicate that money (and one’s own guns) could determine a different outcome. Canadian officials were not in a position to use either device to get the exit permit requirement waived. However, the Canadian behavior contributed to the widespread belief that Canada wanted to completely dissociate itself from Vietnam and the Vietnamese refugee problem.

One exception was the Canadian baby lift of 120 (of the 2,547 orphans taken abroad) that came to Canada, many of mixed race abandoned at orphanages. The Canadian contingent, however, consisted mainly of Cambodian orphans as well as some of the Vietnamese orphans who survived the crash of the US Air Force C-5A that killed 135 of the orphans and escorts on board.
The very high percentage of Cambodians also reinforced the image of Canadian detachment from Vietnamese refugees. But if this was the case, why did Canada admit nearly 7,000 refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam in 1975-76? One answer was that 4,200 were sponsored relatives of Canadian citizens. 2,300 were considered to be genuine Convention refugees. Further, as Molloy pointed out, “The general feeling of Canadian commentators was that the war in Indochina was the United States’ war and that it was up to the Americans to deal with the results of war’s lost.” (43)

That was my understanding – tokenism, minimalism, legalism – not compassion and commitment. Molloy’s book shifted my perspective. The make-up and work of the immigration processing teams tell a very different story. Nick Kyriakides, a Canadian Health and Welfare doctor, died from dengue fever contracted in the Guam processing centre. To grossly understate them, the working conditions were challenging. What pushed those officers? Duty? A moral imperative? Certainly a high sense of responsibility to get the job done in as efficacious and professional a manner as possible. But more than any or all of these was “the sense of adventure, comradeship, and teamwork.” (46) They were having a good time doing good work, good in its accomplishments and good in its implementation in ensuring every chartered flight was full, even though simple tasks like counting were very difficult under the circumstances. In every single location in which they worked, they seemed to be able to combine hard work and joy. Instead of 7 files a day as the norm, the immigration officers processed 80. The 1976 new legislation delegated to those officers discretion and flexibility based on that pilot demonstration.

The real challenges to the nascent program came out of left field. Lieutenant General Dăng Van Quăng, who had a very questionable reputation, had been admitted. One unsavory character did more to blacken the prospect of any increased intake than any single cause. With innovation come risks – “there was little appetite, public or political, for serious engagement.”

What changed between 1976 and 1978? Canadian foreign service and immigration officers delivered intelligence. Small boats filled with refugees continued to arrive. The receiving countries were not only not integrating the refugees, they were voicing growing reluctance to even allow the refugees entry. The numbers had grown enormously, placing an unsustainable burden on the economies and capacities of those states. Politicians (Jake Epp and Doug Roche) and the Indochinese ethnic associations in Canada kept up the pressure. UNHCR added to that pressure. And a wise and perspicacious Deputy Minister, Allan Gotlieb, offered the analysis and the sympathy to make the first tentative steps towards a new Canadian initiative. These refugees were not fleeing because of the American involvement in the Vietnam War but because of the harsh and discriminatory rule of the new regimes now in power, regimes that now were at war with one another.

As indicated in Part III, the biggest difference resulted from the new 1976 Immigration Act promulgated in 1978. Legislative foundations matter, especially when “the new act created, for the first time, a legislative and regulatory framework for Canada’s refugee resettlement programs.” (62) Canada had previously admitted refugees who were technically not Convention refugees. Now grounds were provided to make that part of Canada’s mission as the means were provided to carry it out. Humanitarianism directed at refugees had now been ensconced as a “tradition” within Canadian law. This is who we were as Canadians. In addition to the Political Prisoner and Oppressed Persons Designated Class (Chileans and Argentinians) and the Self-Exiled Person Designated Class (Jews and others from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe), the Canadian government named the Indochinese as a Designated Class, as refugees who could be admitted without determining whether they met the criterion of the Refugee Convention.

Even before the legislation was promulgated, Immigration Department officers began to gear up in 1977 in anticipation of an inevitable new and large resettlement effort. The requisite regulations were drafted in the spring of 1978 and the Indochinese Designated Class came into effect in December 1978.

Ideals were at work. So were interests. But government civil service experience and professionalism, legislation and regulations, the necessary tools for a large-scale refugee resettlement program, were indispensable. However, I had previously believed that the most significant innovation was due more to serendipity than anything else – the creation of the Private Refugee Sponsorship Program. I had thought that this initially minor change in the legislation was made to satisfy the Jewish community which wanted to sponsor one or two hundred Soviet Jews. Molloy documents, as indicated in Part III, that this initiative was very deliberate. It was introduced to assuage critics from the left about Canada’s handling of the Chilean refugees. The program for the Soviet Jews was not the impetus; rather, the latter established the operational principles: efficiency, no cost to the taxpayers, local groups responsible for resettlement, sponsoring organizations guaranteeing the local group commitment, and defining the package of services to be provided.

Chance without a push to take advantage of that opportunity might prove irrelevant. Far-sighted civil servants saw that opportunity. In the spring of 1978, they initiated a public relations program to educate the public and to bring the churches on board to apply the program to help the anticipated influx of Indochinese refugees. It was an opportunity for Canada. (Gerald E. Dirks, Canada’s Refugee Policy: Indifference or Opportunism? Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1977) As well, politicians and civil servants had created a mechanism to act. One year later, the effort yielded its first results when the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada came on board and signed a master agreement. The Christian Reformed Churches of Canada followed suit a month later.

Molloy does not raise the question why it took many of the mainline churches – Anglicans, the United Church, Catholic dioceses – until the summer of 1979 to join the private sponsorship movement. This is one of the few weaknesses of the book. However, Molloy is not writing critical history; he provides a detailed chronicle, one shaped by his diplomatic background. He probably saw no benefit in investigating this question closely, especially since his focus was on the role of mandarins in the program. But it was widely known at the time that the mainline churches were wary, some believing that the private sponsorship program was a conspiracy to dump the responsibility for resettlement of the refugees on the private sector. Further, there was a degree of racism among some of the congregants of one at least of those churches. By chapter 5, the text makes clear that there was “opposition from refugee advocates in a couple of mainline churches.” (91)

The book narrates how the government overcame religious institutional wariness, fears of a large intake given rising levels of unemployment and suspicion that the refugees were just rich immigrants buying their way out and their passage to Canada. Further, even a left-of-centre newspaper like the Toronto Star initially opined that Canada was not a suitable environment for resettling Indochinese refugees.

To be continued with a final section…


Syrian Refugees

To readers of my blog:

A few of you have inquired what I am up to since I have not sent out a blog for ten days. Basically, I am serving as an indentured unpaid but voluntary bondsman on Vancouver Island helping my son Daniel establish his aquaponics business on the farm he purchased near Duncan, BC. I am also helping another son in providing feedback on his film script. I am also catching up on long delays to answering my correspondence. (I receive an average of fifty emails per day, about 5-20 requiring answers and 1 or more needing extensive replies. I have written parts of three different blogs but had to get on the road again to get here, and since then have been so busy that they were never completed. I will try to get back to them this week. However, in the interim, you may be interested in one reply to an inquiry that I sent out this morning on Syrian refugees. The reply follows a copy of the inquiry.


Dear Mr. Adelman,

Hi! I would like to thank you for being willing to do this interview with me. As a reminder, I am inquiring about why there are so many Syrian refugees in the world, and what can be done to improve their situation. I am really passionate about this because through the news, I have acquired a better understanding about Syrian refugees, and where they are coming from. I believe that these refugees deserve a better future after all of the violence that they have experienced. Unfortunately, Through this interview, I am really hoping that you will be able to answer a few of my questions. I have not been able to find answers to my questions over the internet, since much of the information I came across does not present a clear, solid answer.

I have a few questions about you. I found your biography on the York University website, under “Centre for Refugee Studies”. I noticed that some of your interests included refugees and several other fields surrounding it, including refugee policy and resettlement. How did you become interested in this topic, and for how long have you engaged in these studies?

Below, I have included four questions about the Syrian refugees and their situation that I have been trying to seek answers to.

  1. Canada has pledged to accept more than 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. Many of the Syrian refugees want to embark on a new journey; however, I’m wondering whether Canada is even prepared to host the refugees. I understand that there will definitely be additional costs in order for the Syrian refugees to resettle, such as food and a place to live. With these costs, how long will Canada be able to sustain their population with the allotted budget? Moreover, if Syrian refugees resettle in Canada, how will this impact the current population or people who are already living here? Will things such as job competition, a new identity, or other factors soon become an issue?
  1. Some economists believe that if Syrian refugees come to Canada, they will make a great contribution to the society and help to stimulate the economy, through an increase in workforce and productivity. However, what proof is out there that the Syrian refugees will not be a burden on Canada’s shoulders? Could the refugees actually drain or potentially weaken the economy instead? Some other facts to consider is that the Syrian refugees are indefinitely going to experience initial hurdles when they first settle in Canada. Issues that could arise include specific job qualifications or experience, language barriers, or even exclusion from the existing population. Is there a definite answer to this question, or is it too early to tell the effects?
  1. I am wondering how the media is able to influence how people view Syrian refugees, perhaps in a negative way. They seem to have the power to sway the minds of people across the entire nation. Is it because of our existing uncertainty towards Syrian refugees, or another reason altogether? After Germany was so generous and accepted so many refugees, ISIS rose up and there were accounts of attacks that had happened. This was also the case in Paris; one of the terrorists was found with a Syrian passport. Could situations such as these potentially jeopardize the futures of Syrian refugees?
  1. My fourth question is a matter of your opinion. Do you feel that accepting Syrian refugees should be considered as a “global responsibility”? Many of the European Union (E.U) countries have had past experiences with these types of refugee crises; however, I question whether they are applying this knowledge to today’s Syrian refugee crisis. Have their views shifted over time? If so, why?

Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Adelman. I appreciate your time to participate in my interview and to answer my questions. I hope you respond soon!






  1. About myself and my interest in refugee studies:

I first became involved with refugees sixty years ago when I was in charge of the student co-operative residences at the University of Toronto and helped organize the use of those residences for the initial housing of Hungarian refugees when they came to Toronto, Canada. But my intellectual interest only took off twenty-three years later when, in 1979, I began Operation Lifeline, the organization to encourage the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees. After the initial flurry or organization, in 1980 I helped found the journal, Refuge, and set up at York University the Refugee Studies Project to collect literature and encourage research and scholarship initially on the Indochinese refugees and subsequently on all refugee populations.

On Syrian Refugees:

  1. What policies and practices are in place in Canada to host Syrian refugees?

The answer is threefold:

  1. We have a Department of Immigration which has had a long policy and years of practice in the resettlement of refugees, but which had grown rusty with relative disuse in resettling large numbers over very recent years. But the institutional memory remained and Canada had a sixty-year history of gearing up rapidly to ensure the resettlement of large numbers of refugees.
  2. For years, churches and organizations, like the Jewish Immigration Service (JIS), have been involved in partnering with the government in helping resettle refugees. In the Immigration Act that came into effect in 1978, provision was made to allow those private organizations and religious institutions, as well as any group of five or more Canadians who could prove they could support the refugees for one year, to initiate the private sponsorship of refugees. Hence Operation Lifeline and the huge outpouring of efforts to privately sponsor refugees led initially by the Liberal government and then, after June 1979, by the Tory government of Joe Clark.
  3. Since, and in good part as a result of the resettlement of large numbers of Indochinese refugees beginning in 1979, Canada has set up a system of privately-organized and publicly funded resettlement agencies in major centres across the country to help facilitate the resettlement of refugees.

So the main issue is institutional, not funding. Within the overall Canadian budget, the cost of resettling refugees is relatively small. Further, though in the Syrian refugee resettlement program it may end up costing $400 million, those funds could be considered as a long-term capital investment in human resources rather than simply an expenditure allocated to the budget in a single year since those refugees, once resettled, more than pay back the costs of resettlement in increased tax revenues for the government years after the refugees are resettled. Canada has a population base 50% larger than in 1979 and can easily afford to take in 50,000 Syrian refugees per year.

As for the impact on Canadians already here, any addition to the work force, whether from Canadians born here and entering the work force, from immigrants and refugees who arrive here as children and teenagers or from mature adult refugees and immigrants entering the labour market, increases the competition for jobs, but, at the same time, increases the demand for jobs, and, for immigrants and refugees who are compelled to spend a much higher percentage of their income on resettlement and immigration, a higher percentage of their income is spent on locally-produced goods and services.

As for identity and cultural and social conflicts, these always exist in all societies, but the major source of problems by far always come mainly from the existing population and, thankfully in Canada, the percentage of the population resisting the intake of foreigners has become a minority. Enlightened political and social policies are important in reducing that minority further. The issue of cultural and racial clashes has been enormously reduced in Canada since 1979.

  1. Costs versus Benefits of Resettling Refugees

As Canada has developed a more sophisticated economy far more dependent on the development of high skill levels as the economy became more diverse and more globalized, the payback in initial investment has taken longer, but there is still a significant payback, and certainly from the next generation born from and raised by those immigrants and refugees, who, in general, are raised with a built-in pressure for success. As for proof, you will have to do your research on the studies by economists in Canada. The overwhelming evidence is that over the long term, refugees, as well as immigrants, are a net benefit to the Canadian economy in spite of initial hurdles when they first settle in Canada over specific job qualifications or experience, language barriers, or even exclusion by the existing population, the latter, as I stated above, having become greatly diminished over the years.

  1. The Role of the Media

There is a definite correlation between the support by the media and the response of Canadians. The Canadian media in general have demonstrated a long history of support for the intake and resettlement of refugees that has been crucial to the outstanding Canadian success story in resettling refugees. Further, in every refugee movement, or almost everyone – the Bahá’is may be one exception – there have always been some “bad apples”. The Syrian refugee movement has been branded as a potential terrorist threat from a very small minority who infiltrate the refugee movement. That danger is infinitely small in Canada given our process of selection. The real danger comes from homegrown terrorists who emerge generally but no exclusively from among second generation refugees who are marginalized. Canada has overwhelmingly escaped that problem because of our history, our practices and our institutionalization of successful integration, not to be confused with assimilation.

By the way, there is absolutely no evidence of a causal connection between Germany’s generosity towards Syrian refugees and the rise of ISIS. But certainly when those who carry Syrian passports commit atrocities, this brings about bad public relations for the intake and resettlement of refugees. Hopefully, enlightened minds and deep institutional practices will surmount that perceived threat as they did when a group arose objecting to the intake of Indochinese refugees, not only on racist grounds, but over alleged fears that foreign governments and bodies would use the Indochinese refugee resettlement to infiltrate Canada with Communist spies. That proved to be wholly false in the case of the Indochinese, but in the case of my own community of Jewish immigrants and refugees years earlier, a very few, usually second generation, turned out to develop as communist spies, but the numbers were so tiny and the proportion making such a huge contribution to Canada so extremely large, that the risk proved to be very heavily weighted towards taking the very small risk.

  1. The Global Responsibility to Refugees

Yes, accepting refugees is a global responsibility, but just because most countries do not take on that responsibility does not mean that the countries that do should not. When I was much younger, only a small minority of states defended democracy and the cause of universal human rights, but those numbers have increased since. This too has happened with the acceptance of helping refugees as a global responsibility. In 1979 at the time of the Indochinese refugee movement, there were only ten countries that accepted a responsibility to help the proximate countries deal with the huge burden of refugees. That number has increased enormously since, but still constitutes only a minority of even developed nations and there remain in Europe and elsewhere states, or, more accurately, governments that refuse to accept he principle of burden sharing. Further, it must be remembered that it is the adjoining states – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in the case of Syrian refugees – that have the overwhelming and primary burden of the Syrian refugees. For example, the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan constitute 15-18% of its population. That is equivalent to Canada, a very much richer country, taking in over 5 million refugees instead of 500,000 or 10% of that number or the 50,000 we will likely take in by the end of this year, that is 1% of that number Jordan has taken in.

Hope this helps.



With the help of Alex Zisman

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

Canada’s Inhumanitarian Record Part 1 on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program

Canada’s Inhumanitarian Record

Part 1 on The Indochinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program


Howard Adelman

This is the first of a series of blogs on the Indochinese refugee movement in which private sponsorship became a major force and with which I had become deeply involved in the foundation and development of Operation Lifeline. On the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, I have been treated royally by the Vietnamese community and presented with awards. Many memories have been brought to the surface. In another time and place I will deal with those direct experiences and invite readers to share their memories and reflections with me. This series of blogs has another purpose and will form part of a published academic paper. Feedback, comments and criticisms of the blogs would be most welcome.

The series will focus on a description, analysis and explanation of the rise of the private sponsorship movement in the late seventies and early eighties that was so essential to both the numbers and success of the resettlement of Indochinese refugees in Canada. In the Private Sponsorship Refugee (PSP) program of the Canadian government, Canada Immigration and Citizenship (CIC) facilitates the arrival of the refugees into Canada while sponsors provide care, lodging, settlement assistance and financial support. In the first thirty years of the program, almost 200,000 refugees and persons in refugee-like situations were resettled in Canada of which the Indochinese refugee resettlement constituted by far the single largest portion of the PSP program. While at the height of the Indochinese refugee movement, 6,000 were being resettled per month, in the twenty-first century that number has ranged from 230-330 per month (2,800 to 4,000 annually).

The blogs are less concerned with formulation of the policies, their precise expression at different stages and the role the private sector played in the successful integration of those refugees, about which I have written before (see, for example, Howard Adelman (1982) Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, Regina: L.A. Weigl Associates), but rather about the social and political context. The paper will analyze the global situation and the spirit or “geist” of the times in Canada, how that was expressed through religious institutions, the government, media and at the grass roots of society, and how that spirit allowed all sectors to come together to produce such a unique and extraordinary outcome.

Since the purpose of these blogs is not to offer a historical account of the rise of the refugee sponsorship movement, but rather to paint an in-depth cultural, social and political portrait of the times, I will be writing history both forwards and backwards at the same time, but not much about the forward developments to the emergence of the sponsorship movement, but forward from that emergence to the present to examine how much has changed. Further, based on a few contemporary focus groups and a more extensive social survey, and in the face of the enormous current refugee crisis, especially that of the Syrian refugees, these blogs will attempt to analyze why there has not been (and there is highly unlikely to be), a recurrence of such a large private sponsorship movement (as distinct from a number of sponsorships) in the present. I wish it were not so and I will continue to try to make it not so, but the analysis leads to the conclusion that such efforts will largely be quixotic. I begin by setting the stage of traveling backwards in time with “Now,” with current Canadian attitudes and approaches, contemporary Canadian policy and the regional and global refugee crisis.

Though not as consistent or repetitious as in the Boat People crisis of 1979, the media in the spring of 2015 has been filled with stories of boat people. Though there have been no stories of pirates preying on the refugees or of a plethora of rapes, the narratives of unscrupulous human smugglers, of unseaworthy and overloaded boats and of large numbers of drowned refugees have filled the news wires and the internet. In one single weekend alone at the beginning of May, the Italian coast guard assisted by French vessels rescued more than 6,800 refugees. In seven small wooden boats and nine dinghies that normally hold a maximum of 20 persons each (maximum 320 in total), there were 3,690 refugees rescued in one day on 2 May.

In 2014, over 170,000 refugees who risked the crossing from Africa to Europe were rescued.  In the first three days of May this year, the numbers rescued are already half of the number rescued in the whole of May last year. In April, an estimated 1,200 drowned, 800 in one incident that received worldwide publicity. In November of 2014, Italy ended its Mare Nostrum Mission on the argument that rescues promoted increased smuggling. The result, far more migrants drowned and still the flow kept increasing. Risk at sea is not a sufficient deterrent. Europe then launched Triton to rescue the migrants.

Canada, unlike Europe, does not have wave after wave of migrants trying to reach Canadian shores by sea. Yet our record of resettlement of refugees recently has been dismal. An op-ed published this past spring by Geraldine Sadoway and Andrew Brouwer (S&B), two prominent immigration lawyers in Toronto, began with a depiction of Canadian self-perception as a generous and humanitarian people and noted how Canada in 1986 was the only country ever to have been awarded the Nansen Medal – actually the only people, for the award had been given not to the state but to the people of Canada as a whole. Though Canada’s work on behalf of resettling Indochinese refugees was undoubtedly a catalyst in winning the award, formally the award was presented to “The People of Canada, in recognition of their essential and constant contribution (my italics) to the cause of refugees within their country and around the world. Canada is a leading contributor to international humanitarian and refugee aid programmes. Canada has, from the beginning, supported international efforts on behalf of refugees. It has one of the best records for resettlement of refugees and is a leading UNHCR donor.”

S&B challenged the view that the humanitarian streak had been essential or constant in Canadian history. Rather, it has been sporadic and intermittent, with a strong history of bias against refugees. Humanitarianism had not been much in evidence at all in dealing with Jewish refugees prior to WW II, but even at the height of the Indochinese refugee movement, as S&B pointed out, the Canadian government imposed a visa requirement on Chileans fleeing the repressive regime of General Pinochet that had come to power in a coup in September 1973.

What S&B leave out, and what Eva Salinas documented in a Globe and Mail story forty years later on 8 September 2013, is how Canadian embassy officials in Santiago, particularly the First Secretary Marc Dolgin, with the assistance of his colleague David Adam, helped Chileans, one in particular, Claudio Duran, a colleague of mine hired into the philosophy department of Atkinson College at York University as soon as he arrived in Canada when I was chair. He had initially obtained sanctuary in the Canadian embassy. Canada relatively soon after the coup designated Chileans as a special class of designated immigrants who could enter Canada under very relaxed immigration criteria, the same criteria subsequently applied to the Indochinese refugees.

This was in spite of the fact that Andrew Ross, the Canadian ambassador, who was stuck abroad at the time of the coup and was not in Santiago, supported the new Pinochet regime and called Chilean leftists “riff-raff” and rationalized their killing as “abhorrent but understandable.” Perhaps that is one reason why Canada between 1973 and 1978 only took in 13,000 of the 200,000 Chilean refugees who fled the country. However, in that case, without the pressure of the mainline churches, without the pressure from opposition New Democrats like Andrew Brewin and another colleague, John Harney who was then an NDP member of parliament, without the November report of a highly respected External Affairs bureaucrat, Geoffrey Pearson, contradicting the views of Andrew Ross, without the leadership of the then Minister of Immigration, Bob Andras, without a Liberal Cabinet that quickly discredited the views of Ross, and without widespread support by the media, the Canadian program “Special Movement Chile” would never have achieved “lift-off”.

As John Foster and Bob Carty noted in their 12 September 2013 on-line article, the Canadian response to the Chilean crisis was “a contradictory mix of official resistance, personal courage and citizen activism energized by Canadian churches with a persistence that outpaced government refusals.” On the other hand, the government of the day became convinced of the need to act. They did so using the full range of tools at its disposal: the refugee program for those who got out of Chile, the oppressed minority policy for people still in Chile, and a special program for  political prisoners that managed to spring something like 200 political prisoners and their families and bring them to Canada. The  last two morphed into the Latina American Designated Class  as soon as the 1976 Immigration Act made that tool available. When the Indochinese refugee program began in 1978, some cabinet ministers expressed the fear that engagement with the Indochinese refugees might be at the cost of the Chileans.

This has been the record, inconsistency rather than constancy, contradictory rather than essential behaviour. Although the 1986 Nansen Award was for the people of Canada, and was presented to Governor General Sauvé by the High Commissioner of the United Nations, on the dais were the Honourable Flora MacDonald, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Gerry Weiner, then Minister of State (Immigration) and Michael Schelew, then President of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) that had worked most assiduously primarily on the asylum side of the refugee issue, though his cousin, Wendy Schelew, became the senior official in charge of Operation Lifeline. There were no representatives of the Mennonites, the Christian Reformed Church or Operation Lifeline that had led in the private sponsorship of refugees, though Michael Schelew personally had been active in private sponsorship and the CCR strongly supported refugee resettlement whatever the route into Canada.

What S&B highlighted was that, even during the height of the Indochinese humanitarian impulse, the Canadian government (along with its western allies) had begun to put in place a system of visa controls, penalties on carriers that transport undocumented foreigners, a system that pushed border controls to embarkation points and not just at entry points, eventually closed the Canadian-U.S. border to the entry of refugee claimants without family links under the Safe Third Country Agreement, put so many refugee claimants in holding centres, then, even if they gained refugee status, prevented them from sponsoring other members of their family because they used an “irregular” route to get to Canada, and even included among those subject to punishment not only or even primarily the people traffickers and smugglers, but those who help refugees reach and stay in Canada and do so for strictly humanitarian reasons.