Immigration minister says Canada is playing a 'truly transformational' role in private sponsorship of refugees

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says Canada is serving as a model for other countries with a successful program that resettles refugees through sponsorship by private citizens.

Marco Mendicino is in Geneva for 1st World Refugee Forum

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino is attending the first World Refugee Forum in Geneva. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says Canada is serving as a model for other countries with a successful program that resettles refugees through sponsorship by private citizens.

Mendicino is in Geneva to take part in the inaugural World Refugee Forum, an event hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Switzerland that brings together thousands of political leaders, refugee advocates and refugee leaders to discuss ways to deal with the global migration crisis.

Mendicino, who was named minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship on Nov. 20, said Canada is sharing its "depth of experience" in the private sponsorship program, which has successfully brought 320,000 newcomers to the country who were fleeing conflict, disaster or persecution.

"By refining those processes, by frankly making them more robust, we're in a position to share those experiences with other countries," he told CBC News. 

"I've had some very constructive conversations, countries who themselves are now sprouting up community sponsorship initiatives that are looking to Canada as a leader."

Asked if the government is considering lifting a cap on privately sponsored refugees, Mendicino said, "We'll keep an open mind."

The global forum comes as a steady flow of asylum seekers continues to cross into Canada outside of official border points, mostly at Roxham Road in Quebec.

The opposition Conservatives have said the Liberal government's handling of the issue has eroded public confidence in the integrity of Canada's immigration system. Mendicino rejected that claim.

"I will tell you that vast majority of Canadians that I speak to believe in our immigration system. They believe in being fair and compassionate towards refugees who, through no fault of their own, have lost their home," he said.

Success through collaboration

Mendicino said the success of Canada's refugee resettlement programs can be credited to collaboration between all levels of governments, civil society and faith communities. He said that the leadership is something Canadians should be "collectively proud of."

"The work that is being done at the grassroots level is truly transformational and Canada is in that space, and we are playing a leadership role," he said.

UN Secretary General António Guterres opened the World Refugee Forum by calling on member countries to do more to "shoulder the responsibility" of the global migration crisis.

"I urge you to be bold and concrete in the pledges you will make. This is a moment for ambition," he said.

"It is a moment to jettison a model of support that too often left refugees for decades with their lives on hold, confined to camps, just scraping by, unable to flourish or contribute. It is a moment to build a more equitable response to refugee crises through a sharing of responsibility."

According to the UN, more than 70 million people have been displaced from their homes, including 25 million refugees. The UNHCR calls these numbers the "highest levels of displacement on record."

In 2018, Canada resettled 28,100 refugees through government, private sponsorship or blended programs.

Mendicino announced that Canada will contribute $50.4 million over the next four years to the UNHCR, providing "flexible and predictable" multi-year funding to help the agency respond to global refugee needs.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), said she's pleased to see Canada's experience with private sponsorship being shared around the world, but warned that governments must find solutions for the refugee crisis and avoid shifting the responsibility to private citizens.

"The efforts that civil society makes to resettle refugees should be additional to the contributions of governments, not instead of them," she said. "The Canadian government could and should do much more to resettle refugees. We have the capacity and the need worldwide is greater than ever."

The CCR is calling on the government to commit to resettle 20,000 government-assisted refugees each year.

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