Getting Started

The private sponsorship program is probably one of the most beautiful gifts this country has shared with the world, to be placed on a trophy shelf beside butter tarts, hockey, and our stellar charter of rights and freedoms.

That said, it's no easy matter to fill out an application, and it seems to get harder every year, with every new 'improvement' from Canadian immigration.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources and guides to help you fill out the forms. Assuming you've seen some of those already - including the official (very thorough, very boring) one from Canadian immigration, here are some extra tricks or hacks to make the process easier. Let's start by dividing the task into parts.

Collecting the information

The first challenge - and emotionally, it can be one of the toughest - is to write the refugee's life story. It's tough because you're asking people to talk about the most painful time in their life, and then ripping off the bandaid, again and again, to get them to produce all the nitty gritty details required by Canadian immigration.

For private sponsors, producing this narrative role requires you to have the soft heart of a caring best friend and the steely mind of a lawyer. So different and contradictory are the skills involved, in fact, that organizations like Capital Rainbow often assign them to separate people, with an 'empath' to interview the refugee, a note-taker to write it all down, and then a team of volunteer law students to figure out which details still need to be tracked down.

In terms of how to capture this story, you might want to do it in a Word doc, which is much easier to edit and amend than the actual application docs (Generic, Schedule A and Schedule 2 - don't even click on those links yet unless you want a headache) that are required in the final package.

What we usually do is get the applicants to write or tell their life story quickly, as it comes to them - capturing the natural flow of it - and then return to the account, again and again, until all the key details are nailed down. The stuff that is most important:

  • The trouble that forced them to leave their country. But be careful here. A family fight is a weak reason to becoming a refugee. A stronger claim involves violence based on systemic persecution (genocide, homophobia) or war.

  • Their journey out of their country, the trains, planes and automobiles they used to get there

For each key moment, remember to ask where and when. Where and when. There needs to be a place and date attached to each event. And if there's a person involved (a friend, a parent) give them a full name!

Tips for Finding this Information

It's hard enough for most of us to say what we were doing last week. For people in detention or who have been out of their home country for years, it's even harder. Because:

  • Illegal journeys across borders do not usually leave amazing paper trails.

  • People are equally reluctant to keep records or preserve memories of the most traumatic moments of their lives.

Here are some ways to jar the memory bank:

  1. Check your old documents. Passport stamps, plane ticket stubs, and if you're lucky, you have a a refugee document that already captures your story, with all the facts nailed down and written up in the "just the facts" way required by immigration.

  2. Comb through your old Facebook posts and emails to establish an anchor place and time. For example, you may have a picture of yourself from the day you arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Twenty days later, you were on a boat to Manus Island. And two weeks before that, you were on a flight to Thailand. Use the anchor date to determine the others.

  3. Ask your friends, especially those who were on the journey with you. If they're lucky enough to have completed their own private sponsorship application, even better!

  4. Ask your family back home, if you have family back home that you're talking to, to dig up your own documents and send scans of them to you. Make those high quality scans, because you'll need those on the application (more on that in Part 3 of this series)And most important of all:

  5. Ask your mother, if you're lucky enough to have one that you talk to. Mothers remember EVERYTHING!

How to Write It

We've got examples of narratives to see how these things should be written. "Just the facts, ma'am" is the guiding principle.

Generic Narrative 3.docx

While it's likely the refugee went through emotional hell to get where they are today - and are likely still in a state of suffering - this subjective stuff isn't what you want to put in the narrative. Describe the events that caused the suffering, not the suffering itself. Imagine you're writing a legal document, not a cry from the heart.

And it should be in the clearest language. Don't worry too much about preserving the authentic voice of the applicant - the bureaucrats reading these documents know that 95% of them are ghostwritten by people who stronger English.

Why it's Worth It

The main thing to know is that this stage of the process is definitely worth it. For one thing, it allows you - as a private sponsor - to get closer to the person you're helping and their life story. By the time you're done, you'll know them better than perhaps anyone else in the world (besides their mother, of course!)

Which is important, because they're going to be like family to you, even before their plane touches down in Canada.

The narrative, once it's complete, also becomes the foundational document for the rest of the application, both populating the documents and allowing you to fact check against them. Much of what's needed in Schedule 2, for example, can be directly lifted from the narrative. Copy. Paste.

And if you're doing a GoFundMe or writing a Wordpress profile to find sponsors for the applicant, getting their story down in full is the best place to start.