Private sponsorship

Community-based Private Sponsorship of Refugees


The unprecedented scope and complex nature of current global displacement has added renewed urgency to the debate surrounding access to safety for those fleeing persecution, war and conflict that is safe, regular and sustainable. As a response to this, on 19 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a landmark political declaration directed at improving the way the international community responds to large movements of refugees and migrants and which contains a set of commitments by States to strengthen and enhance mechanisms to protect people on the move.  More specifically, signatories have committed to “consider the expansion of existing humanitarian admission programmes, possible temporary evacuation programmes, and flexible arrangements to assist family reunification, […]”.[1] Furthermore, the NY Declaration sets out a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which, among other solutions, proposes specific actions to expand resettlement opportunities and complementary pathways for admission of refugees such as private sponsorship programmes. It equally promotes “broadening the criteria for resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes in mass displacement and protracted situations.[2]

With a modest number of resettlement places available in Europe and with few other safe and legal pathways to Europe, refugees in need of protection are often driven to considering desperate measures, including resorting to taking great risks, embarking on perilous journeys over land and sea, which many do not survive.  Some feel compelled to employ the services of criminal groups, including smugglers, and others may fall prey to such groups or become victims of trafficking. Even when they reach their destination, they face an uncertain reception and a precarious future.

Expanding safe and legal pathways for refugees to reach Europe in a way that is complementary to resettlement is therefore central to enhancing access to international protection and providing a durable solution for those in need. Private sponsorship programmes for refugees can play an important role in this regard. While there is no universally-agreed definition of private sponsorship and programmes continue to evolve, in general, private sponsorship refers to a public-private partnership: the government facilitates legal admission for refugees, and private actors provide financial, social and/or emotional support to welcome and receive refugees in their local community.

Such programmes thus add to the capacity of government protection programmes to meet increased needs for resettlement. By harnessing the support and engagement of both established and new actors, which can include individual citizens or family members of refugees, community and volunteer organisations, faith-based groups, private companies, NGOs, as well as local authorities and small municipalities, private sponsorship programmes can also help to ensure a more sustainable and holistic integration of refugees into their new host societies.

To be effective and sustainable, private sponsorship programmes must be structured carefully, anticipating and managing advantages and possible challenges. Several factors must be considered when developing such programmes, including the time it takes to process applications, the identification and selection of sponsored persons in a responsible and non-discriminatory manner, and the legal status afforded to them, in addition to safety-net provisions and overall programme monitoring. Moreover, private sponsorship programmes should be specific in identifying the purpose and objectives of the programme, the actors involved and the scope of their engagement, as well as the division of responsibilities between sponsors and government.

Over the past few decades, a small number of programmes that can be described as private sponsorship have been put in place, with Canada´s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Programme being the longest running to date. In Europe, a number of civil society efforts have led to the development and piloting of several concrete initiatives in the area of private sponsorship, mainly benefitting Syrian refugees. These examples have often been established in an ad hoc fashion and thus differ significantly in terms of scope, actors involved and status afforded to beneficiaries, as well as legal frameworks, safeguards and responsibilities of the stakeholders involved.

These efforts take place in the broader context of a global effort to advance private and community-based sponsorship models in order to facilitate a pathway to safety for refugees. Most notably, the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI), a partnership between the Government of Canada, UNHCR, Open Society Foundations, the Radcliffe Foundation and the University of Ottawa, seeks to promote and support the development of new community-based sponsorship programmes, building on the success of the Canadian model with the ultimate objective of scaling up refugee protection opportunities on a global level, including in Europe.

In full consideration of such opportunities and challenges, the ERN+ identifies community-based private sponsorship programmes as one of a number of pathways of admission that can support refugees’ arrival to the EU in safety and dignity while complementing existing resettlement programmes. They could help to reduce the incentive for refugees to embark on dangerous journeys in order to access international protection in Europe by offering realistic and credible alternatives. Alongside other pathways of admission such as resettlement, student scholarship and humanitarian admission programmes, community-based private sponsorship programmes could also help to alleviate some of the pressure on countries hosting the largest number of refugees.


For more information on Community-based Private Sponsorship as a complementary pathway of refugee admission to Europe, see the ERN+ webinar page or read the Scoping Paper.

[1] United Nations, New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016), para 79

[2] United Nations, New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016), Annex I, CRRF paras 14 a) and c)