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Legal and safe entry of refugees: the Italian and Canadian models

Legal and safe entry of refugees: the Italian and Canadian models

We have explored the theme of humanitarian corridors in Italy and the Canadian Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. Two innovative solutions for the management of protection and integration of refugees that highlight a possible role for medium powers in reintroduce a more effective multilateral policy on migration.


Laura Borzi*


On several occasions the Centro Studi Italia Canada has focused attention on the role of medium powers in the difficult challenge of slowing the erosion of the international liberal order by promoting its reform. In this sense it is necessary to define priorities, create coalitions on specific dossiers, draw inspiration from plurilateral initiatives or devise partnerships on specific issues. As part of the various initiatives, states can be supported by other non-governmental actors, private foundations or various types of networks. Among the urgent issues, there is the need to address the challenges posed by the phenomenon of migration with its multiple aspects and a growing number of refugees on a global scale. The lack of long-term solutions to the issue, often seen as an emergency, increases political, economic and security issues. Among the medium powers, Canada seems to have a clear idea of the need to develop innovative solutions for the protection of refugees.

After the climax reached in 2015, migrant movements on a global scale continue within a globalized but also regional geography. A complex and lasting phenomenon of migration flows can only be effectively managed by multilateral policies with wide-ranging solutions that address a problem that is structural rather than emergency.

Modernizing the international migration system is naturally a task that requires huge financial and human resources. With regard to the issue of refugees, two interesting examples of alternative legal and safe entry routes will be highlighted here: Humanitarian Corridors in Italy and the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PRS) in Canada. Even with the awareness of the numerically limited scope that these solutions can provide, these complementary paths trigger an interesting mechanism of solidarity between institutions and private associations that encourages safe channels to combat the trafficking of human beings by favoring those forms of integration that protect human rights and guarantee State security.


Global framework, EU, Italy


Among the major dossiers on the world scene, capable of transversally affecting domestic and international politics, the question of migrants constitutes a phenomenon that, despite having always characterized the history of humanity, has taken on in recent years a particularly wide scope so that the international regime for migration and refugee management is facing a serious crisis. The United Nations has indicated the record number of 258 million migrants in 2017, compared to 173 million in 2000 and 84 million in 1970. In fact, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, the refugees in the world have been in 2018, 68.5 million.

In addition to being the source of humanitarian crises of vast proportions, the movement of people across borders leads to destabilization in the regions concerned and consequently pressing political and economic issues for governments. The growth of populism in Europe counts among the many causes a reaction of the continent's populations to a flow of almost 2 million migrants from Africa and the Middle East since 2014. The crisis reached its peak in 2015–16, in relation to the events in Syria, with populations in exile for years now in a situation of human degradation and a breeding ground for radicalization.

The theme, due to its security implications, in the broadest sense of the term has been used as a privileged tool for obtaining electoral consent and has reached a breadth that raises various issues in Europe including the distribution of wealth and the capacity of integration of our societies accentuating social and political polarization in many European regions, the cohesion between societies as well as the solidarity between the Member States themselves. In this way European values have been put to the test, in a dangerous coalition of ideologies and centrifugal forces that make it very difficult to develop truly effective solutions in the short and long term.

Alongside the concerted effort of the international community, specific national and regional responses to particular contexts are also needed.


In Europe, migration policy has been characterized by two trends: increasing need for security (if not for closing the borders) and controlling migration flows with the implementation of a common asylum system aimed at fighting the causes of migration.

On an international scale, paths aimed at standardizing state systems have been followed. In this approach, a substantial international commitment was recorded with the drafting of a Pact on migration, adopted under the auspices of the UN in December 2018 (Global compact for safe orderly and regular migration), which provides for the sharing of some general guidelines to give a coordinated response to the phenomenon. This instrument was not signed by the Italian government while the Global compact on refugees was shared by all the member countries of the United Nations with the exceptions of the United States and Hungary. The objectives are to alleviate pressure on host countries, improve the self-sufficiency of refugees, widen access to third countries, develop conditions of support in countries of origin and return to safety and dignity.

The EU has implemented political and legislative measures to block access, life saving tools at sea, trafficking detection and ship seizure. Other crisis management tools were: additional funding, creation of hotspots in the border areas in order to allow the registration of people arriving and internal redistribution mechanisms for migrants. In addition to relocation, the resettlement mechanism for third-country refugees to the EU has been strengthened. The Global Compact on refugees recognizes the need to provide innovative answers and the fact that the so-called "alternative routes" for refugees constitute a concrete solution for third countries, in addition to resettlement. In this sense, there have been initiatives both of the Union and of individual States aimed at guaranteeing legal and safe access to the European territory. Among the national programs of particular interest are those "community based" and private sponsorship.

The terms used interchangeably indicate essentially the presence of a group of people, an organization or even a private individual who provide financial or social support to those authorized to enter the State. The latter do not assume reception costs, which are paid by the sponsor until the subjects become self-sufficient.

Models of community sponsorship vary from one country to another, but it can be said, in general, that there is an interaction between governments and civil society for the sharing of responsibilities.

These are obviously complementary, additional initiatives that go hand-in-hand with the policies of the States and which may have a limited numerical impact. For Italy, exemplary in this sense is the experience of Humanitarian Corridors, a measure that allows potential beneficiaries, people worthy of international protection, to find, through regular and safe channels, hospitality in our country. This tool is particularly appreciable from the methodological point of view since the Humanitarian Corridors are the example of a virtuous cooperation between different realities at national and international level, competent Ministries, UNHCR, World Organization for Migration on the one hand, on the other hand the private associations.

It is therefore a method capable of creating a sharing of responsibilities and burdens and offering opportunities for welcoming asylum seekers according to the principles of collaboration and solidarity. To date around 2500 people have arrived in Europe, of which over two thousand in our country, and more can be added thanks to protocols already signed, people from areas of high instability with presences of conflicts, received in qualified structures spread throughout the territory and financed by private associations, which guarantee pathways of socio-cultural integration without charges for the State pending the ordinary procedure for the recognition of international protection. The refugee is not left to himself, but a system that benefits everyone is inserted into society and the world of work. A life and integration project is devised to appease the fears spread in the host societies and the same narrative about migrants improves, through mutual knowledge and an emphasis not on the movements of the masses, but on personal stories and the dignity of individualsIn this sense, it would be useful to extend the use of Humanitarian Corridors at EU level as an essential piece of an orderly and structural governance strategy for the migration phenomenon. (See in this regard: Oltre il mare. The first report on humanitarian corridors in Italy and other legal and safe ways of entry. Caritas Italiana 2019)


Experience and initiatives in Canada, a model to share


Regarding the legal entry procedures for migrants and refugees, Canada is a case of interest as it offers, in addition to government resettlement programs, the GAR (Government Assisted Refugees Program), a significant example also regarding private sponsorship programs. Ottawa has a good tradition in this sense, as a response to serious humanitarian crises since 1976: the Immigration Act provided a legal framework able to accommodate the private sponsorship program (PSR). From a temporal point of view there were two important phases of refugee movements: the first, which began with the Lifeline operation related to the humanitarian crisis in Indochina and then during the seventies and eighties, which already provided for refugees could be resettled in Canada with support from private or mixed public and private sponsors; the second, more recent, of national groups such as Afghans, Iraqis and above all Syrians. Last year, Canada was the country with the highest number of refugee resettlement among all the countries in the world, with over 29,000 refugees and 18,000 of them in the communities. As underlined by the immigration adviser and head of the Canadian Embassy, Martin Ducet, during a conference held in Montecitorio last July, the intention in 2019 is to resettle 19,000 privately sponsored refugees. Doucet illustrated the circumstances, methods and advantages of this initiative.

Private sponsorship allows refugees to enter through three types of sponsors:

  • Sponsorship Agreement Holders SAHs, ie accredited organizations that have entered into agreements with the National Government Agency (Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada). In 75% of the cases there are community / humanitarian religious organizations that already have previous experience in this regard;
  • groups of Canadian citizens or permanent residents who can sponsor a person for the purpose of establishing it in their local community, or a refugee already known;
  • community groups (CS community sponsors), associations that operate in the community where the refugees will settle.




The "sponsorship" activation methods


The private sponsorship takes place within the most recent regulatory framework of reference, or the 2002 law on immigration and protection of refugees (IRPA) which regulates the methods of selection of the sponsors, therefore with strict obligations to be respected that accompany the whole process. Beneficiaries (as defined by the UNHCR or recognized by the Country of asylum) benefit from a consistent and structured plan both from the point of view of funding and from the "human" point of view, namely the links with the host community.

The path is expressed in two phases. First and foremost there is a sponsorship request that must be processed by a group and sent to the National Government Agency. Ottawa receives the aforementioned plan and examines it in order to ensure that it actually has the solid foundation mentioned above. For example, it is necessary to verify that the sponsoring group has the adequate financial support, which has not caused a sort of default with the previous administrations, given the fact that some groups have been hosting refugees for years now. The amount of requests to be examined is very large and therefore a consistent network is needed that can allow us to assess the solidity of each group of sponsors, verify in addition to the funding that there have been no criminal matters in the past.

If the sponsorship is approved, the documentation is transferred to an office abroad at one of the Embassies in the world. In most cases, the family that will be welcomed in Canada is interviewed by an experienced immigration officer. Various aspects are analyzed during the interview. As a first element to be evaluated is the fact that there is a real need for resettlement, or to ascertain that the refugee has no choice but to go to Canada. Criminal aspects are investigated to make sure that this transfer is not the tool to bring people to Canada that could represent a security problem and, through the collection of biometric data, verify that there are no criminal problems. Finally, an important aspect is also that of medical checks to make sure there are no ongoing illnesses and in this case, medical treatment is offered before these people enter Canada. The complete evaluation of the individual is carried out by carrying out work with various partners and organizations to carry out the necessary checks. In some parts of the world, more checks will be made according to local problems, but once it is established that the subject can be introduced into the country, a visa is finally issued.

In the event that the family is unable to bear the costs of the trip through the COA (Canadian Orientation Abroad) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a loan system is drawn up which must be progressively returned one year later the arrival of the refugee in Canadian territory.

At the same time, the Canadian Embassy informs the group, the sponsor, of the fact that the refugee is in a position to leave and that the reception must be prepared. As can be seen, all the components of this process are carefully organized since the relationship between the Government and the communities begins, to cover every single aspect and requirement of the individual who will be transferred.

This accurate way of proceeding that evaluates all aspects in a phase prior to arrival in Canadian territory, aimed at ascertaining that the person who is received does not represent in any way a danger to the security of the country, ensures that as soon as the refugee arrivals in Canada may become a permanent resident with the enjoyment of all rights of Canadian citizens health, housing, school, work, subject to the right to vote. At this point, the refugee together with the host group can focus on integrating tout court on an ongoing basis.


Evolution of the Canadian sponsorship model


As already noted, Ottawa has a history of four decades in the field of private sponsorship and it is therefore not surprising that the integration model has suffered from the change in the historical context of reference and in particular, with the new millennium, the rapid evolution and pulverization of threats (terrorism) to state security. During the decade of the conservative Harper government (2005-2015) some restrictions were applied, for example starting from 2011, with limits to the possibilities of sponsors to choose refugees or with restrictions on the number of subjects from particular missions abroad. Since 2013, however, the "mixed" BVOR (Blended Visa Office Referred) sponsorship program has been launched, which contemplates closer collaboration between public institutions and private sponsors, in which UNHCR identifies and reports refugees, while the Government decides in which sponsors to place people with cost sharing between Government and sponsors.


Privately-Sponsored Refugees from Coast to Coast (SOURCE:


With the return to power of Liberals since 2015, we have tried to conceptually separate the issues of radicalization from that of refugees. Evidently the crisis in Syria has occupied a large part of the scenario, so that the Ministry of Immigration had committed itself, in March 2016, to the prima facie recognition of Syrian refugees until September 2017. This implied, as was to be expected, a slowdown in the handling of applications for non-Syrian refugees. The formula of prima facie determination of refugee status clearly speeds up the procedure. During this period, the same government program (GAR) gave priority to families defined as "vulnerable" which did not constitute a security risk. The same private sponsorship has been mobilized to encourage the reunification of family units (defined under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act "up to two adults and non-adult children") that risk being separated in the process of resettlement. The experience of the Sponsorship Agreement Holders indicates that priority has been given to personal ties between family members who are already on Canadian territory and individuals who are located elsewhere. This "echo effect" shows a particular sensitivity in community assistance aimed at not leaving the members of the same family separate. (J Hyndman,W Payne, S Limenez, Private refugee sponsorship in Canada, Forced Migration Review,

It is clear that a fundamental element of the success of private sponsorship is the direct participation of the civil society that offers a privileged way to integration, more "refined" than the experiences of purely governmental resettlement.


The benefits of Private Sponsorship


The benefits of private sponsorship are many: focusing also on family reunification, it follows a path that leads to permanent residence and citizenship, an additional principle is maintained or refugees are admitted to the country in addition to national quotas. This full inclusion in the life of local communities has been a concept taken up to elaborate other complementary ways of access within the framework of economic mobility. It is about putting aside the conceptual attitude that evaluates refugees only as vulnerable subjects in need of help. Considering refugees as people, with the desire to be recognized also for their skills not only for vulnerabilities, a recent formula that selects refugees on the basis of their human capital seems interesting, albeit numerically small. In April 2018, a research project on economic mobility identified 10 to 15 qualified refugees with skills in a federal or provincial program in collaboration with various actors (HCR, RefugePoint, Talent Beyond Boundaries) and some provinces and territories (Yukon, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland). The reference populations have been identified in urban refugees in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Kenya. It is a question of evaluating the obstacles faced by refugees who intend to submit an application for economic immigration and the results of this study will serve not only for the admission of a small number of refugees, but will feed strategic work on complementary access routes or constitue experiments from which to extract reflections and experience for new projects.

Returning to Private sponsorship and its promotion, Canada during the 2016 UN Assembly stated that it wanted to export this model. In December 2016, in fact, the Government, in partnership with the UNHCR and the Open Society Foundation, launched the Global Refugees Sponsorship Initiative aimed at promoting private sponsorship on a global scale with the aim of exchanging experiences for the construction and sedimentation of international best practices. The Global Refugees Sponsorship Iniziative in which the Government essentially deals with the regulatory aspect is an interesting model that aims to promote in the perspective that can serve as an inspiration for other countries, adapting it to the reality of the various national contexts. To the initial participants in the forum, Canada and the United Kingdom, other States were added, including Argentina, New Zealand, Ireland, Brazil and Italy, whose experience of Humanitarian Corridors makes it an inspiring model.


The role of medium powers in the modernization of global migration policies


These interesting solutions, it should be remembered, are additional forms of government action, remaining the decisive States in providing international obligations. Nevertheless, a heartfelt desire of civil society to contribute to offering structural and concrete answers to a phenomenon that calls for growing attention outside the ranks of the emergency dimension in which it is forced emerges. It is a question of responding with innovative political and practical architectures that are able to correspond to the needs of our societies. For this reason, this formula should be helped, even if characterized by a limited capacity in relation to the number of beneficiaries involved, rediscovering as a secondary effect a value that today seems lost, that of hospitality.

As B. Badie, wrote in 2009, "The inequalities on a global scale have reached such levels that it is in multilateral solutions, in integration and in social solidarity that the tools for containing violence must be found".  (B. Badie, Puissant ou solidaire? Principes d'humanisme international , Bruxelles, 2009). A decade later, despite the proclaimed end of multilateralism as it was known in the last century, this observation seems to be even more relevant. It is also through plurilateral initiatives such as the Global Refugees Sponsorship Iniziative that it is possible to offer specifically focused coalition models, with coordinated efforts among some countries able to explain the shared priorities, making each other responsible for the political commitments undertaken. In this perspective, it is precisely the medium powers that could contribute to the modernization of the international migration regime. Particularly important is that the medium powers can make their concerns heard on the subject, also turning their disagreements into concerted actions at a level that is up to the gravity of the crises currently affecting the international system. The scenario of migrants and refugees is inseparable from the global context, which is that of a world that has been in "mobility" since the 1990s, in a system that has become unequivocally interdependent. If the increasing difficulties derive from the shift between categories of migrants and refugees, between countries of departure and transit, at a time when anti-immigration feelings are on the rise and in a world where the South has become a destination land as the North is, the narrative of legality and success in integration through alternative paths is of particular relevance. The issue will be among the (divisive) issues that will be addressed during the upcoming election campaign in Canada. Even in Europe the dossier remains among the major challenges on the agenda of government agendas. And with good reason, since the debate on the migrant crisis seems to have become one of the elements of crystallization of the crisis of liberalism.


* Analista


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