Some refugees aban­doned by Ed­mon­ton spon­sors

Ex­perts say that ‘blended spon­sor­ship’ pro­vided Syr­ian refugees with best ex­pe­ri­ence

StarMetro Edmonton - - EDMONTON - NA­DINE YOUSIF

New re­search on the ex­pe­ri­ences of Syr­ian refugees dur­ing their first year in Ed­mon­ton has un­cov­ered a myr­iad of out­comes, from fam­i­lies be­ing met with a warm wel­come to oth­ers ex­pe­ri­enc­ing com­plete aban­don­ment upon ar­rival.

San­deep Agrawal, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Al­berta’s School of Ur­ban and Re­gional Plan­ning, led a study funded by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment that in­ter­viewed 84 Syr­ian adults in Ed­mon­ton be­tween Oc­to­ber 2016 and June 2017, in an ef­fort to un­der­stand whether the ex­pe­ri­ences of fam­i­lies var­ied on the ba­sis of how their ar­rival was spon­sored: ei­ther by the gov­ern­ment, pri­vate spon­sors in­clud­ing fam­i­lies and com­mu­nity groups, or a mix of both.

Agrawal’s find­ings sug­gest that fam­i­lies who were pri­vately spon­sored had mul­ti­tudes of ex­pe­ri­ences — some re­ceived fi­nan­cial aid and ac­cess to re­sources that far ex­ceeded the re­quire­ments set by the gov­ern­ment for pri­vate spon­sors, in­clud­ing les­sons

with pri­vate English lan­guage tu­tors to cir­cum­vent long wait­lists that ex­isted for lan­guage train­ing.

But other fam­i­lies faced the com­plete op­po­site fate, with their spon­sors aban­don­ing them upon ar­rival, leav­ing the refugees re­spon­si­ble for find­ing their own way, Agrawal said. "In our in­ter­views, refugees were not forth­com­ing as to what hap­pened

to them,” he said, and added that some fam­i­lies re­sorted to seek­ing help from food banks and lo­cal re­li­gious groups to make ends meet.

Agrawal said that in some cases, the aban­don­ment was also re­lated to an “un­ex­pected” loss of in­come suf­fered by spon­sors dur­ing the crash of oil prices in 2016. "This par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence may be con­fined to Ed­mon­ton or the

province of Al­berta,” he said.

The dis­crep­ancy in out­comes of refugees who came to Canada by way of pri­vate spon­sor­ship has prompted Agrawal to ad­vise the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to “take a hard look” at the cur­rent sys­tem in place, and whether pri­vate spon­sor­ship is the best route for refugees mov­ing for­ward. About half of the 60,000 Syr­ian refugees who ar­rived in

Canada since late 2015 were pri­vately spon­sored.

His­tor­i­cally, pri­vate spon­sor­ship was viewed favourably as a sys­tem that yields a higher rate of suc­cess­ful in­te­gra­tion in com­par­i­son to fam­i­lies who were spon­sored by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Suzanne Gross, who works at the Ed­mon­ton Men­non­ite Cen­tre for New­com­ers, said an ad­van­tage that pri­vatelyspon­sored fam­i­lies have is the con­nec­tion to a com­mu­nity that wel­comes them and ac­cepts them im­me­di­ately.

"The dis­ad­van­tage to the gov­ern­ment-as­sisted (refugees) is the com­mu­nity con­nec­tion as­pect," Gross said, which comes hand-in-hand with hav­ing a lo­cal fam­ily as a point of en­try to the coun­try.

But Agrawal’s re­search con­tra­dicted this no­tion, and found that pri­vately-spon­sored Syr­ian refugees in Al­berta faced sim­i­lar is­sues as those spon­sored by the gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing chal­lenges of find­ing em­ploy­ment or ac­quir­ing the English lan­guage.

A smaller group of Syr­ian refugees ar­rived by way of blended spon­sor­ship — half of the fi­nan­cial aid they re­ceive is from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for their first six months, and the other half is re­ceived by a pri­vate spon­sor, ei­ther a fam­ily or a group in the com­mu­nity, for the sec­ond half of the year. While only 5,000 Syr­ian refugees came through the blended route, both Agrawal and Gross agreed that this sys­tem has worked best, based on re­search and ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There would be an over­sight on both sides,” Agrawal said. “Rather than the cases of aban­don­ment that we saw here in Al­berta."

KEVIN TUONG/STARMETRO ED­MON­TON

San­deep Agrawal, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Al­berta, found that Syr­ian refugees were faced wtih dif­fer­ence out­comes upon ar­rival. Some were met with a warm wel­come, while oth­ers were aban­doned.

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