From November 7th to 9th, 2023, I attended the annual Global Gathering for Sponsorship in Lisbon, Portugal, organised by Amnesty International in partnership with the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI).
This event brought together a diverse array of global actors engaged in sponsorship to rejuvenate, collaborate on, and revitalise community sponsorship initiatives globally, as well as within our respective countries.
The primary themes centred around inclusion, participation, advocacy, collective solutions, and how to grow the sponsorship movement.
We had over 130 representatives from 23 countries participate in this year's global gathering.
The event featured stimulating panel discussions followed by in-depth group sessions to further explore key topics. Ample networking opportunities were also provided.
My motivation for attending is because of my role with HOST International (HOST), the umbrella organisation working with Immigration New Zealand to implement the Community Refugee Sponsorship Programme (CORS). In my role, I provide coaching, support, and guidance to sponsorship groups throughout the immigration process and the resettlement of refugees.
This gathering offered a chance to align practices with international colleagues, discussing training methodologies, support structures, safeguarding processes, recruitment strategies, collaborative work with governmental and non-governmental agencies, pre-settlement and post-settlement challenges, and the most effective ways to equip and assist sponsors.
We are currently in our programme's second year, and have successfully welcomed over 20 refugees under the scheme. It was crucial for a representative from New Zealand to be present at this gathering to contribute to the community of practice, gain insights from experienced countries like Canada and Ireland, and recognise our involvement in a global movement rather than operating in isolation.
I was particularly impressed by Canada's exemplary sponsorship programme, which welcomes nearly 30,000 refugees annually. Conversations with Canadian colleagues shed light on the program's longevity by crediting sponsors, communities, and government for its success.
During discussions, three notable trends emerged. Firstly, there's been a significant surge in the global reach of sponsorship. Secondly, efforts are underway to diversify sponsorship initiatives, especially considering that traditional resettlement pathways may not be safe for LGBTQ+ refugees. Canada and Argentina have established separate sponsorship schemes for LGBTQ+ individuals in response to concerns about the safety of traditional resettlement processes.
Additionally, variations in named sponsorship pathways, such as 'United for Ukraine' and 'Homes for Ukraine,' have emerged, providing opportunities for the public to respond to international crises.
This variation in named sponsorship, referred to as the 'nominated pathway' in New Zealand, has yielded positive outcomes in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and others, prompting the United States to implement a similar pathway next year. Australia and other countries are advocating for governments to adopt the named sponsorship pathway, alongside the UNHCR-identified matched pathway.
In New Zealand, both pathways have been established and Immigration New Zealand at the end of the pilot scheme will evaluate the two pathways. It is safe to say that both pathways have presented unique opportunities, challenges, and successes.
The gathering served as a platform to celebrate significant milestones, welcoming new countries into the global sponsorship movement.
Portugal recently approved piloting a sponsorship programme, while Australia has recently welcomed over 300 refugees under its scheme. The United States is also making strides with its pilot sponsorship programme.
Globally, sponsorship faces recruitment challenges. Though not seen in New Zealand, a permanent pathway may expose us to this. Trends worldwide indicate an initial rise in community sponsorship, followed by a decline.
Ireland serves as an example where Rita Tighe and her group sponsored five families, offering crucial settlement support. Rita aptly remarked, 'Human rights aren't about being right; they're about being human.' Her words powerfully remind us that placing humanity at the core is vital, as any one of us could be a refugee. Consequently, extending aroha and manaakitanga is essential.
If the New Zealand government commits to extending the Community Sponsorship pilot, I would encourage you to mobilise, spread the message, join the movement, and consider becoming a sponsor.
Words by Giselle Iradukunda, Community Sponsorship Coach
Note: Immigration New Zealand is no longer accepting groups for the ongoing pilot program, ending in June 2024. Stay connected and get firsthand information by visiting Immigration Zealand and HOST International Aotearoa websites.
HOST International has also signed the Multistakeholder Pledge: Community Sponsorship created by The Global Compact on Refugees & UNHCR in support of the expansion of the Community Refugee Sponsorship, as well as supporting the Australian sponsorhip org pledge.
Click here to read more about this Global Refugee Forum 2023 Australian Community Sponsorship Pledge.