PRESS RELEASE: Celebrating 40 years of refugee sponsorship: A Canadian-led success in resettlement

David Majok (Left), Jennifer Bond, Gregory Maniatis, Senator Mary Coyle, Tareq Hadhad, Senator Peter Boehm, Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Senator Ratna Omidvar, Jana Sobey (Right).

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada April 12, 2019 – On April 9th, 2019, a dedicated and inspired group of people gathered at the Senate of Canada to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. The room quickly filled with conversations between parliamentarians, government officials, immigration and settlement professionals, business leaders, private refugee sponsors, and former refugees. Hosted by the Honourable Senators Ratna Omidvar, Mary Coyle and Peter M. Boehm, in partnership with Professor Jennifer Bond of the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub, this evening celebration highlighted the transformative impact of refugee sponsorship on both refugee newcomers and communities.

Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program has mobilized more than two million Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor over 300,000 refugees. The program’s domestic success has served as an inspiration to the global community seeking new ways to share the responsibility of responding to the global refugee crisis.

“Canadians have been the drivers of the success of this program and tonight we say to you, thank you”, emphasized the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. The event featured a diverse range of leaders in the community sharing their perspectives on the program. Speakers included Nova Scotia’s Tareq Hadhad, Founder of Peace by Chocolate; Jana Sobey, VP Merchandising, Sobeys; David Majok, BVOR Refugee Sponsor, Coordinator at the City of Ottawa and former refugee; as well as Gregory Maniatis partner on the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI).

Canadian citizens and permanent residents take the lead in welcoming and providing integration support to refugee newcomers in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. The engagement of Canadians from all backgrounds and from communities large and small has enabled Canada to bring more refugees to safety, but it has also enriched the communities themselves in countless ways and actively contributes to stronger and increasingly welcoming communities.

In December 2016, Canada, alongside the UNHCR, Open Society Foundations, the Giustra Foundation, and the University of Ottawa, launched the GRSI to share Canada’s four decades of experience with its sponsorship model with the world and to offer support to other countries seeking to establish their own community-led refugee sponsorship programs. Since the GRSI’s launch, six other countries have joined Canada in designing or implementing refugee sponsorship programs: Germany, Spain, Argentina, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Ireland. More than twelve other countries are actively studying the model’s feasibility in their own contexts.

In 2018, only 150,000 individuals were resettled as state commitments to offering this protection option decreased globally. In this time of unprecedented humanitarian need, Canadians from coast to coast to coast continue to show their global leadership in bringing some of the world’s most vulnerable individuals to safety.


“Canadians should be incredibly proud of what they have accomplished over the last 40 years and of the global impact they are having by sharing their experience of community-based refugee sponsorship. As community-based refugee sponsorship programs are being launched around the world, they offer significant potential for growing the number of refugee resettlement opportunities globally” – Jennifer Bond of the Chair, Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative

“I was lucky that a family member connected me to an Ottawa Sponsorship Agreement Holder and through their efforts and the efforts of my family member, I started my life and my dreams a new here in Canada.” David Majok – BVOR Refugee Sponsor, Coordinator at the City of Ottawa and former refugee

“Being a refugee is not a choice or a life-goal. Sponsoring a refugee is a decision of the noblest act that can change lives and futures forever and bring back our belief in humanity by giving a great opportunity to someone who might be counting down to death. Private sponsorship is a win-win arrangement to help our communities grow and prosper as well as integrate the talented newcomers who don’t come here empty but with lots of experience and determination.” – Tareq Hadhad – Founder – Peace by Chocolate

“Watching Peace by Chocolate grow from the farmers market in Antigonish in rural Nova Scotia to a national chocolate supplier in Canada in only two short years has been nothing but inspiring.” – Jana Sobey – VP Field Merchandising, Sobeys

“The private sponsorship of refugees program is a modern form of nation building. By allowing individuals to engage directly in their resettlement, Canadians are able to put themselves in the shoes of those fleeing violence and persecution and have a tremendous impact on their resettlement.” – The Honourable Ratna Omidvar – Senator for Ontario

“British poet and former refugee Warsan Shire said: “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” For the Hadhad family, who lost thriving chocolate factory in an air strike, and for the millions of their compatriots, who were also displaced, Syria had become just that, as dangerous as the mouth of a shark. Today, living in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, supported by Syria Antigonish Families Embrace (SAFE) and national business partner Sobeys, the Hadhads and their successful Peace by Chocolate business have transformed their story of war and loss into a shining beacon of hope through courage, vision and hard work, with a proud community standing beside them.” -The Honourable Mary Coyle – Senator for Nova Scotia

“Upon arrival to a new country, refugees face a number of challenges. … It is thanks to initiatives like the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program that new members of Canadian society are better able to integrate into our communities and adjust to their new lives here in Canada. … This is a program of which all Canadians should be proud.” -The Honourable Peter M. Boehm – Senator for Ontario

“At this moment of history, our politics really need this. Canadians are bringing to the world not just the experience of sponsorship, but also a deep knowledge of how to build community, and with refugees at the heart of that effort.” Gregory Maniatis – partner on the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative – Program Director at Open Society Foundations

For more information:

Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative:

Government of Canada: