Donors foot bill for refugees — now they need sponsors

Now that donors have covered the cost, settlement agencies are looking for sponsors to help welcome up to 150 refugees to the City of Ottawa — and a total of 1,000 nationwide.

Shapiro Foundation, anonymous Canadian donor provide more than $1M

Mark Zarecki, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Ottawa, says the money will be used to fund the needs of refugees and might spur new sponsors to get involved. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Now that donors have covered the cost, settlement agencies are looking for sponsors to help welcome up to 150 refugees to the City of Ottawa — and a total of 1,000 nationwide.

The fund was created by the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub, Jewish Family Services Ottawa, an anonymous Canadian donor and the Shapiro Foundation, an American charity.

The refugees would be identified and screened by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the money will fully cover the financial commitment. 

Mark Zarecki, executive director of Jewish Family Services Ottawa, said the aim is to broaden the pool of potential new sponsors after so many people participated in the Syrian refugee resettlement effort three years ago.

"There are people probably who do not have the financial capacity," he said.

"This will offer them the financial capacity, then they will offer their skills to help integrate and settle people."

Volunteers to sponsor Syrian refugees have dwindled in the last three years, said Mark Zarecki, executive director of Jewish Family Services Ottawa. 0:35

Private sponsors and the federal government split a year of income support for the refugees.

Resettling an individual refugee requires sponsors raise $10,000 and a family of five requires $20,000, according to the Refugee Hub. 

Zarecki said the donors have put more than a million dollars on the table. 

The final figure will depend on how many sponsors participate.

Don Smith, chair of Ottawa's Refugee Ministry Working Group, said sponsorship agreement holders — such as religious organizations and settlement groups — could be liable for millions of dollars if sponsorship groups failed to cover expenses.

This new fund will help reduce that risk.

Smith said new sponsors have dwindled in the last three years since the headline-grabbing Syrian crisis and the debate over refugees has mixed with questions about asylum seekers at the border.

Sponsors wanted

More than financial support, sponsors help refugees find housing in Canada and often pick them up from the airport.

Zarecki said they often form life-long friendships beyond the one-year commitment required by the private sponsorship program, which helps the newcomers develop social networks and integrate.

"Our experience is that those sponsorship groups are more effective than government sponsorships," Zarecki said.

He said Ottawa settlement agencies are looking for about 600 to 700 sponsors, who could help bring between 100 to 150 refugees — toward a national target of 1,000.

He has at least eight potential groups who might be able to take advantage of the funding.

He said the private donors have put more than $1 million toward this effort.

U.S. donors

The UN says the number of refugees needing permanent resettlement will increase to 1.4 million people next year and said in a recent report there is a growing gap between that need and spots in potential host countries. 

Jennifer Bond, executive director of the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub, said American donors at the Shapiro Foundation were looking for a way to act.

"Unfortunately at this time of tremendous global need, the numbers of refugees being resettled to the United States are plummeting," Bond said.

"They've made an extremely low commitment of 45,000 refugees for this year. Their arrival rate suggests they'll be far below that in terms of people actually getting to protection in the United States."

Bond said the donors have agreed to keep the fund in operation up until Sept. 17, which is the deadline for arranging sponsorship to allow refugees to arrive by the end of 2018.

Jennifer Bond, a lawyer and managing director of the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub, says the fund attracted American donors who believe in the value of refugee resettlement, but are seeing little action in the U.S. (CBC)

With files from Kimberley Molina