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Private sponsorship pathways

Through private sponsorship programmes, otherwise referred to as named or nominated sponsorship programmes, sponsors are not only involved in the admission of refugees but often provide financial, emotional, social and/or settlement support.

UNHCR is advocating for increasing private sponsorship initiatives and is working with civil society and governments in many countries to promote such programmes.

What is private sponsorship?

Private sponsorship programmes provide individuals, groups of individuals or organisations with an opportunity to sponsor refugees to come to their country, thus offering them protection and a new home. 

In private sponsorship, the sponsors directly engage in the efforts to admit displaced persons in their country. They are the ones identifying, selecting, and supporting the entry and stay of people in need of international protection, who are not referred by UNHCR. 

While sponsors can freely choose whom to support, the individuals sponsored most often include nuclear and/or extended family members of the sponsors or people known to the community.  

Why private sponsorship?

Private sponsorship programmes have clear benefits not only for refugees but also for the individuals and communities sponsoring them. In particular, they: 

  • Increase responsibility sharing:  

With the number of displaced persons growing, it is essential to share responsibilities and actively engage with communities and individuals to provide durable solutions for people fleeing conflict. Communities across the world can make a real difference in the lives of displaced people, by bringing them in their countries and providing networks, capacity, and resources. 

  • Improve integration prospects: 

As evidence suggests, private sponsorship is likely to enhance the integration prospects of refugees. Local communities offer integration advice, informal orientation, language assistance and support to newly arrived refugees. 

  • Facilitate access to international protection for refugees:  

Sponsorship pathways constitute an avenue for refugees allowing them to access international protection. Like other complementary pathways, they are a path to a durable solution for people forced to flee their home due to conflict, war or persecution.

Private sponsorship and community sponsorship

Even though community sponsorship and private sponsorship both involve the engagement of local communities for the reception and integration of refugees, they are by nature different and must be clearly distinguished. 

Private sponsorship pathways are a complementary pathway that facilitate the admission of refugees in a new country. In private sponsorship, sponsors play a key role throughout the process; they are the ones identifying and selecting the beneficiaries and are directly involved in their admission, reception, and integration. Also, unlike resettlement, which is solely based on the risks and needs of refugees and done by UNHCR, private sponsorship pathways allow sponsors to nominate individuals based on other considerations such as family links, skills, professional or educational background. 

Conversely, in community sponsorship, the sponsoring individuals, organisations and/or communities support the reception and integration of persons who have already been accepted in a country through a referral by UNHCR or through a different pathway such as an education or employment opportunity. In community sponsorship, the sponsored person is selected and admitted independently from the sponsor and the role of the sponsor only begins after the arrival of the sponsorship beneficiary in the country. 

Private sponsorship programmes

Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) programme is a prime example of private sponsorship. The Canadian government has admitted more than 300,000 refugees through its Private Sponsorship of Refugees program since it was introduced in 1979. Thanks to this programme, refugees can be admitted in the country from a distinct pathway that is additional to the Canadian government-assisted refugee resettlement programme. In this way, Canadian citizens and permanent residents have the opportunity to sponsor a refugee to come to Canada and commit to providing financial and emotional support to refugees during their first year in the country.

Australia’s Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) is another example of a similar programme. SHP visas are for people who are subject to substantial discrimination amounting to gross violation of their human rights in their home country. In this programme, the proposer (the sponsor) may cover the travel costs and is expected to help refugees settle in Australia. This includes meeting them at the airport, supporting them to find permanent accommodation, providing assistance with banks, public transport, and language, supporting them in the search for education and/or employment opportunities and more.

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To escape conflict, Syrian wrestling champion Mohammad and his family fled to the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. There, Mohammed established a training programme and taught wrestling to 25,000 young people. After four years in the camp, he and his family moved to Canada thanks to a private sponsor and a local church who raised the funds to bring them to the country within only 3 weeks.

Today, he spends most of his days volunteering at a local wrestling club where he aims to produce nothing less than world champions.

Read Mohammad’s story