Thank you, and good afternoon.
Thank you very much for inviting me. It's a real honour to be with you today.
My name is Jennifer Bond. I'm a law professor at the University of Ottawa and managing director of the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub. I'm also currently serving as chair of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative.
I plan to focus my intervention today on two things: first, the potential of community sponsorship programs to both protect refugees and transform the world's approach to resettlement in very fundamental ways, and second, Canada's unique opportunity to lead this transformation.
I know you've already heard from a number of other witnesses on the scale and scope of the displacement challenges in the world today, so I'll just open with a few key framing remarks.
First, we're facing a dramatic escalation in the number of people being forcibly displaced. You heard the numbers when our colleagues from the UNHCR were before you. They're enormous. Second, the global community has failed to mobilize sufficient collective capacity to adequately protect all these people, particularly since they need protection for longer periods of time than ever before. Third, many governments and their citizens have serious concerns about how these large protection challenges intersect with their ability to effectively integrate newcomers so that they enhance existing societies. Fourth—and we all have to recognize this—when integration fails, communities suffer, anti-immigrant sentiment festers and support for the broader protection agenda is challenged.
It's a very complex and a very challenging moment, but over the past 40 years Canada has been quietly developing an incredibly powerful tool that has the potential to make an enormous difference, and that is community sponsorship. Sponsorship is a program or an idea that many of you know well. Many of you have grown up with it all around you in various ways, and a lot of us take it for granted. It's part of what we understand as a normal component of refugee resettlement.
Until very recently, however, we were the only country in the world with any kind of sustained and robust policy model that gives private citizens primary responsibility for welcoming and integrating refugees into their local communities. Most Canadians don't know that. They don't know how unique this program is.
We introduced community sponsorship in the late 1970s, and since that time Canadians have sponsored over 300,000 refugees on top of those who have been resettled by our government programs. This includes over 30,000 Syrians who have arrived to sponsorship groups in over 400 Canadian communities since 2015 alone.
Canada's use of private sponsorship today has a number of different individual programs: private sponsorships, which is language with which many of you will be familiar; BVOR sponsorships; LGBTQ sponsorships; medical sponsorships; and educational sponsorships. We have a lot of different program streams, and each of them is driven by its own unique policy configurations. At the heart of all of them is this fundamental notion that groups of citizens are empowered and responsible for welcoming and integrating the newcomers. That's at the heart of all those programs.
Collectively these programs demonstrate three important things: first, that community-sponsored refugees integrate comparatively quickly, showing improved outcomes over all kinds of indicators in years one, three and five post-arrival. It isn't really surprising if you think about the many benefits that follow when you have a group of 10 or 20 or even 50 people dedicated to helping you find your way in your new neighbourhood. Of course, the forms of this support are many. They include finding and furnishing housing, providing informal language training over a cup of coffee or a shared meal, introducing newcomers to their neighbours or their local barber, helping kids with homework, teaching them how to skate, supporting adults with resumé writing and landing their first jobs—all these little things make a difference in the lives of newcomers.
From a policy perspective, what matters is that the sponsors themselves feel deeply invested in and responsible for the success of their new neighbours. It stops watching from a distance, and maybe even hoping for the best, from a distance, for your new neighbours. Instead, it's also a collective endeavour. Your new neighbour's success is also your success, and that changes the landscape of what this looks like. The data also shows us it changes outcomes for refugees.
Second, and this is really important, community sponsorship has a profoundly positive impact on local communities. If you talk to sponsors here in Canada, they almost always talk about how meaningful sponsorship has been for them. They talk about how it's brought their communities together, how it's addressed their own sense of detachment and loneliness in a chaotic and technology-driven world. They talk about how fulfilling the experience was. The key thing is that it's always about them. It's not actually about the fact that they did something good for the world. It's about how their lives have been improved. This is really noteworthy in the context in which we're facing the bigger problems around displacement.
It's also noteworthy that sponsorship programs have the potential to engage many different kinds of communities. From our experiences here in Canada, big law firms have engaged in sponsorship, neighbourhood book clubs have engaged in sponsorship, along with entire towns, various faith communities and interfaith communities. This is an opportunity to engage many different kinds of communities.
Of course, it's not only the sponsors who are engaged but also the people who are around them. That's really part of the magic of these programs. It's the people who get asked for a car seat or a couch, or a few hours of their time, not from a stranger or a professional agency but from their friends, from their neighbours, and they feel compelled to contribute.
We know from recent survey data that close to two million Canadians have been part of sponsorship groups just in the last three years. That's extraordinary when you consider our population. I find it equally stunning that another seven million Canadians know someone who has sponsored and offered some form of support. Again, this is an extraordinary reach.
This brings me to my third significant benefit. Over time, sponsorship has the potential to translate, block by block, community by community, town by town, a mobilization that begins in the most intimate of ways. It's about helping families find their way in this new country.
You can take that mobilization and see it translate into strengthened understanding and support for the broader protection agenda. In today's complex and challenging environment, that support is critically important. It's a critical part of what we have to address when we look at the big picture issues that you have all been studying.
Belief that community sponsorship can lead to these three significant outcomes has led to the creation of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, or GRSI, a unique partnership that brings together the Government of Canada, the UNHCR, the Giustra Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub. You have in front of you samples of some material that's been produced through that partnership.
Our collective goal is to encourage and support the adoption of community sponsorship programs all over the world, and there is tremendous interest. As I sit here today, the GRSI is currently working in over 15 countries that are interested in exploring the possibility of sponsorship programs. We're also supporting the design and implementation of publicly announced programs in the U.K., Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand, Germany and Spain. That's an interesting list of countries, in part because of its diversity.
Hundreds of sponsored refugees are already arriving in several of these countries, and we anticipate that by the end of next year there will be tens of thousands of sponsors directly supporting refugees all over the world for the first time outside of Canada. The U.K. is leading in this regard. I was recently at an event in London that gave me an opportunity to hear some of the same kinds of stories that have surrounded us for decades in Canada, except they were being shared with Welsh, Irish, Scottish and cockney accents. It was such a meaningful demonstration of what can happen if we find the right policy tools to empower our communities. Communities have many skills, a lot of energy and a lot of compassion. At this moment, with these significant challenges, we have to empower them.
Sponsorship in the GRSI has been included by UN member states in the final draft of the global compact on refugees, and the international community is currently looking very actively at new approaches to the massive displacement problems you have been looking at. They see hope in sponsorship, they are interested in sponsorship and they are looking to Canada to lead the way.
What can we do? I'll close on this point.
We need to share our 40 years of experience generously, with humility and also honesty. We need to talk about what hasn't gone that well. We need to also grow our commitment to capacity building around these programs, finding significant ways not just to describe what we do here but to roll up our sleeves and offer expertise and operational support and sustained accompaniment as states transform their own approaches to welcoming newcomers. What we take for granted is a huge radical leap in most of these countries.
We also need to find ways to build connections between sponsorship groups in Canada and those that are forming all around the world, so that we can leverage the community-based expertise and generosity and energy and skill that are at the heart of our program here as we're trying to support others in developing these programs in new places.
Most important, we need to recognize the transformative potential of a model that for us is normal. I welcome the study you are undertaking here for that reason. It's an opportunity to see what we do well and the spaces where Canada can lead, and this is one of them. Canada is a trailblazer in the sponsorship space. We've been quietly doing what we've been doing for 40 years, but now the world is asking for us to play a leadership role. Given the scope and the complexity of the challenges that the international community is facing, there's a significant opportunity and a real responsibility for Canada to stand up and seize that moment.
Many thanks again for the invitation to be here, and I look forward to our conversation.