Why I Became a Private Sponsor For Refugees

Martin Mark in a refugee camp in Africa

My name is Martin Mark and my interest in the private sponsorship of refugees goes back to when I used to live in Europe, 20 years go. Back then, I was already fascinated by how the Canadian government was leveraging the civil society to resettle refugees in Canada. Fast forward to 2000, I moved to Canada with my family and was working at the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP)  where I learned everything about the private sponsorship processes and requirements. 

After having taught private sponsors all about the processes and the requirements to be a private sponsor, I decided to become a private sponsor myself. I still recall my first year as a private sponsor. I was working in a small office trying to gather all the documents to send to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Processing the applications was very interesting. 

Private Sponsorship is a Miracle 

The whole aspect of private sponsorship is a miracle in itself. Especially when you have been to refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East and witnessed the distress and hopelessness of these people firsthand. It is a miracle to see the refugees you met in a refugee camp land at Toronto Pearson airport. You can barely recognize them with their shining eyes and beautiful smile, everything's just wonderful! 

The Sponsorship Process is Tedious 

I wish I could sponsor more refugees to come to Canada but my hands are tied due to IRCC imposing  quotas and applications being tedious. We must now document a lot and be as bureaucratic as much as possible. This is killing the program! Some of the applications I submitted are still being processed though it has been six years since I submitted them. 

Lobbying for Two Refugee Girls

Still, this does not prevent me from wanting to keep on sponsoring refugees, especially since it is a question of life and death. I remember how upon some volunteers’ insistence, I met two, a 16 year old girl and her sister,whose parents had passed away. They were living in a refugee camp and the curse for a girl there is to be beautiful. It was a matter of days before something bad happened to her. There was no doubt about that: the conditions, the circumstances, and the environment were prone for this kind of thing to happen. 

I could not help but be moved by their situation. So I decided to get in touch with the camp manager, confirmed all the information with him and scheduled a meeting with the Canadian embassy. Luckily the visa office manager was very receptive and offered to check the information with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In the meantime, I flew back to Canada to convince the Catholic church to let me apply for their sponsorship despite the scarcity of money.  In the end, everything fell into place with people volunteering to help the girls and IRCC being very collaborative. 

Integration of Refugees into Canadian Society

Having said that, a refugee’s integration into Canadian society is not without any effort. People often forget that the real work begins overseas. Whenever I go to a refugee camp, I make it my duty to give the refugees an orientation, give them enough materials to prepare them for the life that awaits them in Canada, and send them monthly correspondence. This entails giving them an overview of the different aspects of life in Canada: culture, society, tradition, legal aspects, race relations, accountability, transparency, equity, gender issues, and children’s rights. 

Giving Refugees the Chance to Prove Themselves

It is very important that once the refugee lands in Canada, they hit the ground running. Unfortunately, many sponsors have the bad habit of letting the refugee relax too much. They should on the contrary find ways to encourage the refugees to study, work, and volunteer to be part of Canadian society and live their lives independently. For this to work, we have to provide them with the guidance and tools they need and we also need to make sure that we allow them to pave their path. Refugees came to build their dreams, not to be dependent on their sponsors in order to thrive! 

By Dr. Martin Mark