Refugee Sponsors Celebrate 40th Anniversary

The Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) Association represents over 100 Canadian organizations that have refugee sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada. On March 5 we are celebrating the signing of the first agreement in 1979, which allowed the Mennonite Central Committee to authorize sponsoring groups within their congregations. Other churches signed agreements within weeks, and since then the SAH community has expanded to include a wide variety of faith and community groups. Today more than 300,000 refugees have been resettled to Canada through the efforts of private sponsors.

Private sponsorship was a response to Canadians’ compassion for multitudes of refugees fleeing the aftermath of the war in Vietnam. This notice appeared in the New York Times on November 26, 1978:

(AP) — A Canadian Air Force jet left Malaysia today carrying 159 Vietnamese refugees heading for new lives in Canada.

They are the first refugees freed from the freighter Hai Hong, which arrived with 2,500 passengers at Port Kiang, near Kuala Lumpur, 17 days ago.

Malaysia refused the Vietnamese permission to land when they arrived and negotiations are continuing with several Western nations in an attempt to resettle them.

The plight of refugees on the Hai Hong received intense media coverage and Canadians responded, launching Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. Together the Government of Canada and private Canadians sponsored more than 60,000 refugees from Southeast Asia in 24 months. In 2015 another widely-distributed image, the body of a young Syrian refugee washed ashore on a beach in Turkey, rallied another vast Canadian response, and the well-established SAH community was there to take the calls, organize and oversee sponsoring groups, file the forms and documents and welcome and support the newcomers.

The partnership of government policy and public mobilization is at the heart of private sponsorship in Canada. The SAH Association congratulates Canadians on 40 years of life-saving work.