The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, recently praised Canada’s success in resettling over 25,000 Syrian refugees and highlighted the role of the country’s private sponsorship program in achieving the government’s goal. “Between an increased financial contribution and the incredibly important gesture of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees,” Grandi told the CBC last month, “Canada has taken the mantle of humanitarian leadership in the world.”

Canada’s unique sponsorship program allows Canadian residents and organizations to directly sponsor asylum petitioners abroad. Since 1980, private citizens and faith-based organizations have resettled more than 200,000 refugees across the country.

“I think it’s really unique and we are working with the Canadian government to try and export it to other countries,” Mr. Grandi said of the program last month. He noted that the scheme “adds more places for resettlement, but it also contributes to create this sense in civil society that it is a positive thing to do.“

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UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. March 30, 2016 (Photo credit: U.S. Mission to the UN)

Mr. Grandi’s comments were part of the UNHCR’s efforts to encourage other countries to pursue similarly ambitious resettlement plans, ahead of a UN conference on refugee resettlement held earlier this week in Geneva, Switzerland. This meeting was a follow up to February’s London conference, where donors pledged $12 billion in aid. As reported by The Guardian, only half of all commitments have been disbursed, thus far.

According to the UNHCR, the recent Geneva meeting focused on “the need for expanded, multi-year programmes of resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admission” for the nearly five million Syrian refugees in the Middle East and Europe. “We are here to address the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon told attendees on March 30, “This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity.”

The UNHCR estimates that nearly half a million of all displaced Syrians will need to be resettled before the end of 2018; as a result, according to Grandi, “resettlement needs vastly outstrip the places that have been made available so far.”

At the summit’s closing, officials reported only “modest increases in the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places, bringing the total to date to some 185,000,” far short of the estimated 480,000 required spots. “Offering alternative avenues for the admission of Syrian refugees must become part of the solution,” Mr. Grandi argued – alternatives like Canada’s private sponsorship scheme.

[Related: How Canadians Can Privately Sponsor Refugees]

For its part, Canada’s Immigration Minister John McCallum told conference attendees that Ottawa “will continue to pursue solutions to ensure the humanitarian treatment and resettlement of Syrian refugees,” The Toronto Star reported. Just this week, Ottawa announced plans to resettle an additional 10,000 Syrians in 2016, on top of the more than 26,000 refugees admitted since last November. According to Minister McCallum, the government is also exploring resettling more Syrian post-secondary students, with hopes that these efforts will “help to initiate other such similar opportunities for refugee students in many other countries.”

Mike Molloy, a retired government official and professor at the University of Ottawa, recently commended the government’s handling of the crisis. “The government inspired people rather than scared them,” he told The Star. “Canadian people were ready. It’s a success in terms of the political messaging, results and action. There’s no doubt about it.”


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