2.1 The Guiding Principles


Users of this online learning resource are responsible for connecting with government and local organizations to ensure access to relevant information on refugee sponsorship in their community.






Many unique communities and organizations around the world participate in community-based refugee sponsorship (refugee sponsorship). To reflect the diversity of sponsorship programs and people involved in each country, this online learning resource provides insights into questions and responsibilities that might be considered as universal.

Reminder: Learn about and connect with government and community organizations in your area to ensure you also have the refugee sponsorship information that is specific to your local context.

With the Guiding Principles for refugee sponsorship, we offer a number of ways of understanding and approaching commonly encountered situations. Since so many aspects of refugee sponsorship are community-specific, you – as the residents of the community – are experts on what it takes to live and thrive in that community. Through this resource, you will consider some of the preparation and problem-solving that may be useful in your refugee sponsorship activities.

Managing Expectations
Going into any new experience or situation with specific expectations can lead to disappointment or confusion for those involved. This also applies to refugee sponsorship. It can be useful to consider a variety of possible outcomes, identify assumptions, and keep an open mind throughout the refugee sponsorship period. Supporting someone who is adjusting to a new environment can take time and rarely unfolds as expected!

Considering Culture
Reflecting on how our gestures, actions, and understanding of the world may be specific to cultures and ourselves as individuals is essential to refugee sponsorship. You, the sponsorship group members, and the refugee newcomers might have similar and differing cultural norms informing your perspectives and behaviour. Considering culture in refugee sponsorship is about everyone involved growing and learning – refugee newcomers and the sponsorship group and the community.

Privacy and Confidentiality
Respecting the privacy and confidentiality of refugee newcomers is critical. They may trust the sponsorship group and share personal details, but it is still for them to decide how much of their lives they wish to share and with whom. Carefully navigating privacy and confidentiality whenever recounting a story or sharing information is key.

Considering Power
The goal of refugee sponsorship is the refugee newcomers becoming self-sufficient at the end of the sponsorship period. This involves their ability to make their own plans and decisions to attain their own goals. Your sponsorship group will explore ‘doing with’ rather than ‘doing for’ refugee newcomers. A power dynamic exists between all people, including the sponsorship group members and refugee newcomers, so always considering that power will be critical to a successful refugee sponsorship experience.



Managing Expectations



Source: RSTP YouTube ‘Refugee Sponsorship Expectations: Sponsor and Refugee Perspectives

In this video, both sponsorship group members and refugee newcomers had different expectations of the sponsorship experience. These expectations can be small things – such as the weather – that might just take time to get accustomed to. Sometimes these are more complex expectations, such as meaningful employment. For both, this might include how much/little the sponsorship group will be involved in the newcomers’ lives and what the relationship will be like.

It is important to try to manage expectations with the refugee newcomers and within your sponsorship group. Consider how both may have expectations based on multiple information sources, misunderstandings, or assumptions based on lived experiences.

Examples of sponsorship groups’ expectations that may not be accurate:

Refugees experience mental health challenges. They may have experienced significant hardship, but mental health may not be yet affected (or ever).
Refugees are less educated than those in the resettlement community. They may be educated with many qualifications. Those qualifications may not be ficially recognized in the country of asylum or resettlement.
Refugees do not have money or assets. They may have money or assets that they have brought with them or can access.
Refugees and sponsors will become close friends. A strong bond may be formed, though not always. This is okay since success is about self-sufficiency.
Refugees will not leave the new community. They may decide to move after arriving for various reasons, including looking for work, reuniting with family or due to changes in their country of origin.
Refugees newcomers will quickly adapt to the new community. Adapting to a new community, including language and norms, is an individual experience.
Refugee newcomers will/will not spend money according to an established budget. They may have different levels of comfort, understanding and sense of priorities than the sponsorship group does or is made aware of.
Refugee newcomers with formal education and/or knowledge of the local language will find a job. There are factors beyond education and language skills to a community or person’s reality that may affect the employment search or prospects.
Refugees will be happy and remain happy in the resettlement country. They may arrive in the resettlement community with certain expectations, and may be disappointed.
By the end of the sponsorship period, refugee newcomers will be very active members of the community, including speaking the language, completing their education, and finding a job. There may be many challenges for refugee newcomers to become self-sufficient that may be challenging to overcome or predict, even with the sponsorship group’s support.

Examples of refugee newcomers’ expectations that may not be accurate:

  • Social norms or culture will be very different/similar to what they are used to.
  • The new community will be very welcoming/unwelcoming to them for various reasons.
  • There will be more than enough financial or material assistance available through the sponsorship.
  • The sponsorship group will do everything/not very much or will be constantly available/unavailable.
  • There will be many ideal employment opportunities.
  • Homes will be very large/small and will be fully ready for them/not.
  • The extended family will be able to join them later with the help of the sponsorship group.
  • They will be able to continue their studies quickly and easily.
  • The sponsorship group will know many/few details about their personal history or culture.
  • They have to be grateful and happy after arriving for the sponsorship group to continue helping them.

Examples of challenges that may arise from unmet expectations:

  • Trust being broken or difficult to build between the sponsorship group and refugee newcomers.
  • The sponsorship group makes decisions for the refugee newcomers, seeing them as unable to do so.
  • The refugee newcomers’ self-esteem or confidence may be affected by sponsorship group members expressing disappointment or dissatisfaction with perceived progress in adapting to the community.
  • Reduced motivation of sponsorship group members.
  • The refugee newcomers not communicating with the sponsorship group.
  • Relationships among sponsorship group members become challenging or produce conflict.
  • Sponsorship group members losing sight of the purpose being the refugee newcomers’ safety and life.
  • Sponsorship breakdown due to the sponsorship group or refugee newcomers being unable/unwilling to continue.

Where might these expectations come from? For both sponsorship groups and refugee newcomers

  • Rumours or misunderstanding information or support provided to other refugee newcomers.
  • Miscommunications with the sponsorship group.
  • Their/your own assumptions based on factors such as cultural backgrounds or personal experiences.
  • Excitement about resettling to a new community/supporting someone to adapt to your community and fantasizing about what that experience might be like.

How can we manage expectations?

Almost all sponsorship groups experience some challenges in managing expectations. You can try to minimize expectations and learn from the situations that arise. Throughout this online learning resource, you will encounter scenarios that involve managing expectations and you will explore ways of managing them.
Some approaches to consider include:

  1. Maintain two-way communication with the refugee newcomers and within your sponsorship group.
  2. Reflect on your expectations, how realistic they are and what they might be based on.
  3. Address unmet expectations when they arise from the refugee newcomers or within your group.
    • Communicating with them before arrival can be useful and can inform your planning. If it is not possible, you can begin discussing expectations soon after arrival.
  4. Accept not being able to fix or prepare for every situation.
  5. Be open-minded and compassionate through the ups and downs in the refugee newcomers’ lives.



Check In: Managing Expectations



Part of managing expectations is understanding that there are many potential successful outcomes of sponsorship and not just one right way to do things.


In a training journal, list a few of the successes that you would like to see in community-based refugee sponsorship.



Considering Culture



Reflecting on how our gestures, actions, and understanding of the world may be specific to cultures and ourselves is essential to refugee sponsorship. You, the other sponsorship group members, and the refugee newcomers have similar and differing cultural norms informing your perspectives and behaviour.

Your sponsorship group may benefit from learning about the multi-faceted background(s) of the refugee newcomers, as will the refugee newcomers benefit learning about those of the resettlement country and the sponsorship group. The refugee newcomers may or may not have received pre-departure orientation prior to arrival, so you may want to validate this and explore what (additional) orientation might be useful to them. This could be a great opportunity to learn about each other!

Considering culture in refugee sponsorship is about everyone involved growing and learning – refugee newcomers and the sponsorship group and the community.

Common culturally-specific behaviors or characteristics

As you explore these examples, consider discussing some of these questions within your sponsorship group:

  • How  do you personally view or approach these topics? Why do you think this is?
  • How do your friends, colleagues, or community members view these topics? Why do you think this is?
  • How do you think having some understanding of the perspectives of others on these topics might be useful in refugee sponsorship activities or certain situations?





Eye contact

Looking people in the eye can mean many things depending on the culture and individual. A few examples of meanings can include:

  • Showing honesty and straightforwardness;
  • Being aggressive and/or rude;
  • Showing respect (insufficient eye contact may be considered disrespectful);
  • Making others feel comfortable/welcome (too much may lead to discomfort); or
  • Being the most effective way to connect with people.

Non-verbal gestures

Motions of the hands, head or other body parts to indicate an idea or emotion is integral to non-verbal communication and can have vastly different meanings in different cultures. They are also common sources of misunderstanding or offense if interpreted from a different perspective than intended.

Directness and speech

As with eye contact and non-verbal gestures, approaches to and perceptions of verbal communication vary significantly across cultures, languages and individuals. A few examples to consider:

  • Providing direct feedback or asking direct questions can be considered rude, impolite, or confident.
  • Offering ideas and responses as suggestions may be considered most appropriate.
  • Avoiding asking clarifying questions may be to prevent being seen as challenging authority figures.
  • Idioms do not translate well since they are so culturally, linguistically or geographically specific.
  • Examples: “raining cats and dogs” (raining a lot); “put my foot in it” (did/said something wrong)



Time and Planning


Cultures and individuals emphasize planning, time and punctuality in a variety of ways. This broad spectrum of perceptions includes:

  • People must rush to meet deadlines or arrive to meetings exactly on time.
  • Being ‘on time’ is flexible in order to slow down to conserve energy in high temperatures.
  • Being certain of something depends on divine intervention and is therefore out of a person’s control.
  • Meetings or important events cannot take place on certain dates or times to avoid bad luck or religious or cultural observances.



Gender Norms


The refugee newcomer’s gender may significantly shape their experiences and goals, as it may for anyone. Gender norms are socially constructed ideas of how individuals should identify themselves and behave. These are often internalized from birth, for example, by the colour of clothes and being referred to as boys or girls. In many parts of the world, societal expectations specific to men and women can be deeply entrenched and can vary significantly.

Reflect on what gender norms may exist in your culture. Consider discussing within your sponsorship group.

  • How might the gender-specific experience of those in your sponsorship group differ from your own?
  • How might the experiences and approach to situations of refugee newcomers be linked to gender norms?

Examples of gender norms

  • Men wear pants and women wear dresses / Either can wear whatever they choose.
  • Men may be expected to secure employment and women care for children at home.
  • Men and women cannot socialize before marriage / They must socialize a lot before marriage.
  • Men/women are to socialize mainly/only with the same gender / They are to socialize with everyone.



Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression


Refugee newcomers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) may face additional challenges, even after arriving in the resettlement community. Given that homophobia and transphobia exist in many parts of the world, risks for these individuals may include physical and sexual assault, psychiatric confinement, honour killings, and imprisonment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. These terms, as in any language, are always evolving, but it may be helpful for your sponsorship group to explore their meanings.

Resources on supporting LGBTQ+ refugees include Heartland Alliance and Organization for Refugee, Asylum, and Migration (ORAM)

Considerations on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression

  • The process of identity formation may have occurred before or during forced displacement.
  • Risks of stigma, discrimination, or violence may continue in the refugee newcomer’s new community – from the general public and from those of similar geographic or cultural backgrounds.
  • Impacts on their mental health may persist or intensify following their arrival to the new community.





Religion, faith and spirituality can greatly impact a person’s values, goals, and approach to life. Some may be open about this or keep it private. The way in which this aspect of the refugee newcomers’ lives may need to be considered in your sponsorship activities can be clarified in ongoing, two-way communication.

Considerations regarding religion in refugee sponsorship

  • Have an impact on a person’s beliefs, values, goals, and approach to life;
  • May or may not be different from the sponsorship group members’ religion or other belief system; and
  • They (or you) may or may not be open to talking about religion or other beliefs.



Government or Institutional Authority


Our perceptions of and interactions with government or other institutional officials may be shaped by our cultures and many other factors, including past experiences. A few examples to consider can include:

  • Relying on family and social networks for services that may be provided and regulated by government;
  • Viewing the police as corrupt, unreliable, uninterested in providing protection, or intending to harm; and/or
  • Hesitating to interact with others in positions of authority, such as medical professionals.

When it seems appropriate, it may be useful for your sponsorship group and the refugee newcomers to discuss their feelings towards people in positions of authority or government. Many possible outcomes exist, including it not being an issue or only learning that it is an issue with time when trust between the sponsorship group and the refugee newcomers is established. If you do learn that interacting with government or institutional authority figures is challenging, you might consider strategizing together with the refugee newcomers about how to reduce what makes this difficult for them. For example, this might be as simple as sponsorship group member accompanying the refugee newcomer to learn more about how police function in that community and what services they provide, in a neutral environment like a coffee shop.



Strategies for Considering Culture


Cultures are complex systems made up of constellations of factors, and the ways that each person understands and experiences life vary. The goals are to learn more about each other and the refugee newcomers; for them to learn more about their environment; and to tailor your approach to them.  

Strategies for considering the many aspects of culture

  1. Learn about what might be part of the refugee newcomers’ cultural background;
    • Create relaxed opportunities for them to share their understanding of their culture and what it means to them;
    • Remember that certain perspectives may differ from those of sponsorship group members or that they may not wish to discuss them;
    • Connect with individuals or organizations that might share this background, possibly including former refugee newcomers, whilst keeping confidentiality in mind;
  2. Think about how your behavior, assumptions, and perspectives may be culturally specific; and
  3. Build trust before entering these conversations, through patience, respect, and openness.

The factors explored in this online learning resource may need to be considered in some sponsorship tasks. As always, this can be clarified in ongoing two-way communication and mutual learning.



Check In: Considering Culture



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Privacy and Confidentiality



While refugee newcomers may trust the members of your sponsorship group and share personal details, it is still for them to decide how much of their lives to share and with whom. In addition to the core support your sponsorship group will provide to the refugee newcomers in the new community, you will likely also be encouraging others to get involved in refugee sponsorship by sharing your experiences. Therefore, carefully navigating privacy and confidentiality whenever asking questions, telling a story or sharing information is critical.

Privacy and confidentiality are relatively similar concepts. The main difference is that privacy deals with an individual’s right not to be asked sensitive and personal questions about themselves, while confidentiality is about keeping certain information as a secret, unless that individual gives permission to disclose it to others.

Strategies for maintaining privacy and confidentiality include:

  1. Highlighting that they have the right to keep their information private, and that the sponsorship group will respect this and not pressure them to change this decision. Hearing this from you shows respect, even if they still decide to share.
  2. Noting that being aware of certain personal information may improve the sponsorship experience, if they chose to disclose it. For example, being aware of physical or mental health conditions may allow your sponsorship group to find suitable services for the refugee newcomer to decide to use. Reiterate that it is still their choice whether they wish to share information.
  3. Adjusting your sponsorship approach to build trust as you observe who within your sponsorship group the refugee newcomers may feel more comfortable interacting with and consider why this might be.
  4. Remembering that the refugee newcomers sharing about their lives does not mean that you should share about them as well. What your sponsorship group or others know about them is their decision, including for sponsorship activities.



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Considering Power



The goal of refugee sponsorship is the refugee newcomers becoming self-sufficient at the end of the sponsorship period. This involves their ability to make their own plans and decisions to attain their own goals. There might be challenges for sponsorship groups and refugee newcomers work toward self-reliance for a number of reasons. For example, the refugee newcomers may be reluctant to disagree with the sponsorship group or say that they feel uncomfortable having certain choices made for them.

The idea of power is at the root of our interactions, and can it be understood as operating in a number of ways:

Power Over: Domination or subordination. Socially sanctioned threats of control and intimidation that require constant vigilance, and invite active and passive resistance.

Power To: Having decision-making authority. This can include the power to solve problems and can be creative and enabling.

Power With: People organizing with a common purpose or understanding to achieve collective goals.

Power Within: Self-confidence, self-awareness, and assertiveness. This is how individuals can analyze their experience to understand power in their lives, and gain the confidence to act, influence, and change.

Since power can be power over, power to, power with, and power within, considering power is not giving power to others, but exploring how you can use these forms of power to achieve a common goal. You can try to do this by creating opportunities, collaborating, and aiming for self-sufficiency.

A power dynamic exists between all people and in all interactions, including the sponsorship group members and refugee newcomers. So, always considering power underpins a successful refugee sponsorship experience.

Encouraging dependence versus independence can be seen as the difference between:

A Crutch

A Trampoline

A walking aid needed to move around
A surface to launch from

Some refugee newcomers may want more independence quickly and others may prefer more support, and there may be specific occasions when they prefer to rely on the sponsorship group. It may be useful to encourage your sponsorship group to reflect on ways to provide support and working toward self-sufficiency.
As you do this, a few questions to consider may include:

  • Which factors might contribute to the refugee newcomers’ sense of autonomy? How? Why?
  • Why might they be reluctant to disagree with you or to say that they feel uncomfortable having certain choices made for them?
  • What factors might contribute to the power imbalance in your interactions with the refugee newcomers?
  • How might the idea of family, and the roles and dynamics within it, affect/not affect your support?
  • How might certain group members, or the entire sponsorship group, support the refugee newcomers’ self-determination and aim for self-sufficiency?

A few examples to discuss possible approaches to addressing with your sponsorship could include:

  • Refugee newcomers wanting to be accompanied to medical appointments when feeling vulnerable;
  • Refugee newcomers refusing for the sponsorship group to organize employment or education;
  • Refugee newcomers preferring to be driven, instead of taking public transportation, due to convenience or hesitating to be alone or for a reason you are not aware of; or
  • Wanting to socialize only/not at all with the sponsorship group members.

Strategies for considering power and aiming for self-sufficiency

  • Highlight that it is the refugee newcomer’s right to make their own decisions. Encourage them to the possibility of saying no to requests or offers of support from the sponsorship group, or more generally.
  • Provide the relevant information so that they can make informed decisions. This could include referring them to community resources,  services, and professionals.
  • Accept the decisions that they make even when you may not agree. Of course, local laws and regulations apply and both the sponsorship group and refugee newcomers should be aware of them.
Source: RSTP YouTube ‘Power Imbalance



Check-In: Considering Power



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