Submitted by Sabine Lehr, Private Sponsorship of Refugees Manager
In the wake of large numbers of refugees that have arrived in Germany over the last two years to seek protection, Germany is now looking for new and enhanced mechanisms to bring more refugees to the country under resettlement and humanitarian visa programs, including private or community sponsorship schemes. To that end, the German NGO Caritas, in collaboration with the UNHCR in Germany, organized a symposium in October 2017 that brought together mostly German civil society and Government representatives to ponder next steps. Caritas is the NGO co-chair of the 2018 Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR) which will take place in Geneva in late June 2018.
Sabine Lehr, Private Sponsorship of Refugees Manager at ICA, had established contact with Caritas at this year’s ATCR event. Given Sabine’s German background, Caritas invited her to attend the October symposium since there is always interest in Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program and its resettlement program in general, including the support resettled refugees receive through the Canadian nation-wide system of settlement agencies.
The symposium took place in the historic town of Friedland (meaning “Peace-Land”) which has served as a first reception centre for refugees since the Second World War. In September 1945, the British Military Government opened the camp to process millions of German expellees and war returnees. Today Friedland is an initial reception center for asylum seekers and refugees. An excellent documentary on Friedland is available here – it follows refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Pakistan during their stay in the camp – and also talks with Germans who came in the early days when Friedland first opened
Sabine also took the opportunity to have meetings with Government officials and NGO representatives around the edges of the symposium. As Canada is looking for ways to restructure its backlogged refugee claims system and the Immigration and Refugee Board, she was hoping to learn how Germany managed to cope with handling large numbers of refugee claims. Another purpose of her meetings was to find ways to communicate with German organizations around opportunities for re-uniting families torn apart between these two countries – where one part of the family is in Germany and another part in Canada. Hopefully, Sabine’s visit and the connections she has made will help some families uprooted through war and violence in their home countries to re-unite.