NEED OF HELP:
You're a refugee and you reached out to us, because you need help and you're wondering what we can do for you. In general, here's the conversation that follows.
Question 1: What kind of help do you need?
"My life is in danger and I need to leave my country."
"I'm stuck in an airport and they won't let me fly."
"I've just been put in prison."
We do our best with such requests. Remember we're just an informal network of volunteers in Canada, with full time jobs that are unrelated to helping refugees. We're ordinary people, answering messages from dozens of people each day in our free time. And with some problems (like medical) we may not know how to help.
That said, one of our strengths is having a strong network of other helpers around the world, who may have good recommendations on what to do next. So feel free to reach out.
Question 2: So you want to be sponsored to come to Canada?
Most of the time, people contact us because they heard of other refugees who have been sponsored to come to Canada, and they want to come too.
That makes sense. There are millions of displaced people out there, and only one private sponsorship program in the world that actually works. (Other countries have tried private sponsorship, but have put in restrictions to keep the program from becoming successful). So the global demand from refugees is high.
If what you want is to be sponsored, read on.
Question 3: Are you a refugee?
Sometimes people contact us while still in their country. To be a refugee, you have to be outside it! It's core to what being a refugee means.
Question 4: Do you have official refugee status?
Most of the time you need official refugee status to be privately sponsored to come to Canada. This paper or document typically comes from the UNHCR. Exception: if you're in Papua New Guinea, or an Afghan in Pakistan, you may get a refugee paper from your local host government. Read this guide from RSTP to see if you qualify for Canada's private sponsorship program.
Question 5: Can we see it?
Some people think they have a refugee certificate from the UNHCR, but what they actually have is the version called 'asylum seeker.' Or they have a different form of ID, like the kimlik from Turkey.
The only way to find out if you've got the right one for private sponsorship is to show us. And if we don't know if it's the right kind, we'll contact our friends at RSTP to find out if it qualifies.
If the answer is "no" (as in "no, this is not official refugee status") all hope is not lost. There's a type of organization in Canada called a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) that can sponsor you, even if you don't have an official refugee paper. But most SAHs have a waiting list that's years long, and most of them don't respond directly to refugees. So they are a distant hope for most people.
Question 6: Do you have other options?
There are many ways to get to a safe third country. The UNHCR could bring you, or if you're lucky, you might be eligible for a visa based on employment or becoming a student. If you're a political activist, or working for an NGO, you might be eligible for political asylum, or for a humanitarian and compassionate visa.
Private sponsorship to Canada is both slow and difficult, so if you have other options, pursue them first.
Question 7: Have you read the guide?
Knowledge is power. Before asking us a thousand questions about private sponsorship and what's involved, please do your research. There are a number of good guides out there you should check, including this one on private sponsorship, from the Northern Lights website, this detailed (maybe too detailed) website from Canadian immigration, and this friendlier explainer from RSTP
Question 8: Do you have sponsors?
If you've read the guides and watched the videos, you may know that there are 3 major pieces to the private sponsorship puzzle. They are:
1) A sponsor team
3) A completed application
Let's talk about the sponsor or settlement team. These are at least five individuals living in the same city in Canada, who have either passports or permanent residence cards. They can be just nice people who know you and want to help, or a group of your own friends or family. You need a settlement team whether you're coming in through a Group of Five, a Community Sponsorship or SAH.
If you're outside of Canada, it's likely you don't have a lot of contacts in this country. Which is why our #1 request at Northern Lights is, "Can you find people to sponsor me?"
The answer to that is almost always no. We don't have sponsors waiting around for a refugee to bring here. Putting together a sponsor team is hard work, and you may have to do that work yourself. Here's a guide on how to find sponsors.
Question 9: Do you know anyone with money?
The Canadian government requires a certain amount of money to be in the bank for each person who is privately sponsored. This is money that's kept in a secure account for the refugees until they arrive. The money is then transferred to you, the refugee, to live on when you arrive.
It's about $17,000 in Canadian dollars for each person, though less for each extra person if it's a family. Here's a table of sponsorship costs.
This cannot be your money! Canadian immigration forbids people from paying for their own sponsorships. That's to keep refugees from buying their way into the country. But the funds can be from a family member who is not being sponsored, and many successful fundraisers involve overseas friends, in countries like Australia. Here's a guide on how to fundraise.
Question 10: Do you really want to start a crowdfunding campaign?
If you don't have anyone with a lot of money to spare, you may ask to set up a crowdfunding campaign on a platform like GoFundMe. Our typical advice:
"If you don't have a clear path to raising at least 2/3 of the money needed, you should not bother with crowdfunding. Setting up a GoFundMe will just raise your hopes and then crush them, as the weeks and months pass without enough progress toward your fundraising goal."
These campaigns only work if either YOU or someone you know has a high profile and an amazing network of friends who are willing to donate. And if it's your friend who has this network, that's the person who should set up the fundraiser. Not us at Northern Lights - our friends are all tired of us asking to donate.
Here's guide on the storytelling approach that might work if you do want to try crowdfunding.
Question 11: Do you have someone to help you with the application?
Filling out the application is hard work. Unless you have a well-equipped computer, and amazing English, you're going to need help.
Typically at least the first few rounds of applications are completed by a caring friend in an English-speaking country like Canada or Australia. And hopefully, you have such a friend. If not, let us know! We have found some good people through our volunteers page who may be able to help.
And once you find such a person, don't forget our handy 5-step guide to writing the application. It's here for that purpose, Once the application is done, we're happy to walk you and your sponsors through the next step.
Question 12: Can you tell us your story?
For most people, the to questions 8-11 is "no": they don't have sponsors, funding or a helper for the application. In other words, they don't have all three of the 3 main pieces of the private sponsorship puzzle. In which case, what we mostly do is wish them good luck, and suggest they keep searching.
However, because it's depressing to turn people away (when they've been turned away from opportunities for years), we may also suggest they send us their story, written in the same style as the other Northern Lights profiles. The purpose of asking for your story:
1) Sometimes it is good for people just to have their life story known.
2) The story can become the basis of an online profile, fundraiser and even private sponsorship application.
3) We are building a website of such profiles for the in-progress Hazara Hope website.
While it's a work-in-progress, we're hoping to use this website to bring more attention to the situation of the Hazara refugees around the world, to drive both private sponsorship and advocacy. As we saw in this UNHCR website,, telling stories of refugees can be a powerful tool for change. Also, we're still trying to figure out a way to make sure this website doesn't just feature Hazaras.
We've already got 30 profiles in the process of being edited, so this is a long-term project.
Question 13: How does that sound?
By this point, you may be disappointed. You came in with a request to be privately sponsored to Canada, and now you have a long list of things you need to do first - when you're already busy with the challenges of refugee life.
For that, we apologize. But we'd rather provide you with a clear sense of what to expect than fill you with false promises and false hope.
"It is quite painful for us to say "no" or "not now" to people all day, when we see you deserve help and would love to do more."
The good news is, sometimes all these pieces DO fall into place, and we are able to sponsor people to come to Canada. So don't give up. If you put in the work, you could be next. As you've probably seen already in your life as a refugee, sometimes the only person who can save you... is you. And we are happy to help guide you through that journey.