Canada’s refugee system is good, but not perfect: Cecco

(By: Ryan Rocca)

While Canada is notoriously known for welcoming refugees, the government should look at ways to make their assimilation into the country more effective, Leyland Cecco, a journalist and UN employee said at Ryerson Wednesday.

Cecco works for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and recently finished working on a series of stories for the UN named From Far and Wide, which highlights different stories of Syrian families who have recently come to Canada.

Cecco’s work documents Syrian families which have come to Canada with the aid of private sponsorship programs, in which ordinary Canadians donate money and time to assist refugees with settling in the country.

Private refugee sponsorship programs are not in place in other countries and are unique to Canada.

“Canada is the only country where a group of concerned people can see what’s happening on the news, collect money and bring a family that has been displaced by conflict to the country,” Cecco said during his speech at Ryerson.

These private sponsorship programs often result in refugees having dedicated Canadians by their side assisting them with assimilating in the country by helping them learn English and obtain employment.

Room for improvement

Nevertheless, Cecco said that, while Canada’s private refugee programs are more personal than refugee programs in other countries, Canada’s overall intake of refugees is not perfect.

Approximately 55 per cent of Syrian refugees who have come to Canada have been government sponsored, a program which Cecco said is flawed.

“The private sponsorship identifies a very specific need which is a social safety net for a lot of refugees to help them integrate,” he said in an interview after the event. “The government system fundamentally can’t provide that to the degree which the private sponsorship can.”

According to Cecco’s research, within one year of immigrating to Canada, just 12 per cent of refugees who are government sponsored find employment. That’s compared to 50 per cent of privately sponsored refugees.

Annie Sakkab worked alongside Cecco in the creation of the From Far and Wide series.

She said, “When you’re government sponsored, you don’t have the personal support to show you how to do things like go to the doctor, to school, to learn English and find employment.”

Problems with private sponsorship

Moreover, despite its successes, Canada’s private refugee sponsorship programs are not perfect either, Cecco said.

“One of the problems is that it sets a timeframe for which the sponsors become no longer financially responsible for the family,” he said.

Oftentimes, after a year in Canada, private and government sponsored refugees are expected to support themselves.

“That can be a difficult thing for families that have had a difficult time finding work or learning English,” he said. “The privately sponsored programs also have very little oversight and it’s essentially predicated on the generosity of a bunch of strangers.”

The Canadian government also recently limited the number of private sponsorships allowed in Canada to 1000 during 2017.

Ingrid Roesch attended Cecco’s speech. She sponsored a Syrian refugee family which came to Canada late last year.

“We also need to have sponsorship groups communicating better amongst each other to meet all of the needs of the refugees,” she said. “We need to know how we can help them better.”

Nevertheless, Cecco and Sakkab both said that Canada’s refugee system is still one of the best in the world and should be used as a model for other countries.

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