Volunteers and Sponsors: A Catalyst for Refugee Integration
by Susan Fratzke and Emma Dorst
WASHINGTON — Rapid arrivals of humanitarian migrants in Europe and North America have been matched by an equally unprecedented outpouring of public support. As offers to volunteer and donate pour in, many have asked whether this generosity can be harnessed to ease pressures on overburdened receiving communities and service providers. But using volunteers to meet the longer-term integration needs of resettled refugees and recognized asylum seekers is not an automatic salve: it requires thoughtful training and investment to be effective.
A new report for the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, Volunteers and Sponsors: A Catalyst for Refugee Integration?, considers how the benefits of volunteering can be harnessed by overstretched providers. It assesses where community members can add the most value to integration efforts and distils the challenges that community organizations and integration service providers face in engaging volunteers. It concludes by offering recommendations for how policymakers can facilitate the effective engagement of communities in integration.
While volunteer efforts cannot replace specialized social service agencies or well-resourced social assistance programs, they do offer unique resources that can be an invaluable complement to the services that professional agencies and case workers are able to provide, authors Susan Fratzke and Emma Dorst write. Yet engaging volunteers or community sponsors is hardly a cost-free or even cost-saving endeavour for most resettlement and integration agencies. To succeed, volunteers and sponsors require vetting, training, supervision and ongoing support.
The report offers a few ways in which policymakers can help fill gaps, including by creating policy frameworks that allow agencies to engage volunteers or sponsors where they would add the most value; and provide dedicated resources to establish and maintain effective community engagement.
“Investing in the ability of integration service providers to identify, train, manage and support volunteers and sponsors can enable a community to leverage its human and financial resources to achieve positive integration outcomes that benefit governments, communities and newcomers alike,” the researchers conclude.
The report is the second in a new Transatlantic Council series, “Rebuilding Community After Crisis: An Updated Social Contract for a New Migration Reality.” Drawing from papers presented at the Council’s twentieth plenary meeting, held in Vienna, the series examines how the fundamental tenets of integration and building strong communities have changed in response to the pressures of mixed migration flows.