Keeping Up with Frank

A Simple Plan: Spreading the Gospel of Private Refugee Sponsorship

January 31, 2019

All it took was a three-minute conversation on the phone. Just three minutes to convince me that such a seemingly simple idea could have such a potentially huge impact on thousands of refugees. It was obvious this was a brilliant idea. I almost wondered why it took so long.

The idea was essentially this: To draw on Canada’s experience and leadership in private sponsorship and work to spread the model to other countries. It wouldn’t take a lot of money. And I was told that several countries had already reached out to Canada to enquire about our sponsorship program. All we needed to do was adapt the Canadian model to the specific needs of individual countries and help them create “champion” groups within each country to work with their governments. So simple, yet so effective.

Conversations were arranged with Open Society Foundations and Jennifer Bond, founder of the University of Ottawa’s Refugee Hub. Not long after that, the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI) was born with founding partners the Government of Canada, UNHCR, Open Society Foundations, University of Ottawa Refugee Hub, and the Giustra Foundation.

The initiative recently celebrated its two-year anniversary. Earlier this month, it was recognized in the Global Compact on Refugees, which was affirmed by 181 countries. The governments of Germany, Spain, Argentina, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom are all designing or implementing community-based sponsorship programs. Officials in more than a dozen other countries are studying and considering the model. Those are impressive results for a two-year-old initiative.

The reality is that there are countless generous people on this planet who want to make a meaningful contribution; people who see photos of frightened, exhausted refugees stumbling off smugglers’ ships, or standing knee-deep in mud at a refugee camp and want to help. They want to do more than write a cheque. They want meaningful human connection, they want to bring people to safety, they want to welcome them and help them build a new life. 

GRSI doesn’t necessarily get the headlines or the glory. But when a country opens its doors to refugees through community-based sponsorship and I see news stories like this one, about a Syrian family’s new life in a small Welsh town, I feel proud.

Happy two-year anniversary, GRSI.