By: Allison McDonald

16 November 2017

Professor Christopher Kyriakides’ Webinar, “The Dynamic of Trust in Refugee-Host Relations”

Held on Saturday 28 October 2017, 10:00-11:00am

I have had a really keen interest in Canada’s asylum-claim determination process and refugee integration since I worked for the Immigration and Refugee Board for a co-op work term. Professor Christopher Kyriakides, Canada Research Chair and Executive Committee Member at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University held a lecture, “The Dynamic of Trust in Refugee-Host Relations”, hosted by Al-Qazzaz Foundation for Education and Development, which naturally grabbed my attention right away. This was the kind of firsthand information from an expert that I have yearned for to further develop my ideas and broaden my knowledge about Canada’s refugee affairs.

Professor Kyriakides talked about refugee-host relations in the sphere of the Canadian Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. Some of the key themes he talked about were what he calls ‘existential transactions of worth’, ‘resettlement knowledge assets’, and the role of ‘trust formation’ in determining ‘resettlement success’. I want to talk about these themes as they made sense to me and ultimately highlight the importance of recognizing people who have been given refugee status as ‘persons of self-rescue’ and persons with past, present and future narratives that extend beyond the confines of ‘refugee’.

People that seek asylum and receive refugee status identify as ‘persons of self-rescue’. Being a refugee, to them, is in defiance of conflict, of having their humanity taken away, and of being subject to human rights abuses. However, a refugee is also a label that can take away individual personhood and follow a media-defined narrative extremely limiting to the realization of ‘existential transactions of worth’. Professor Kyriakides gives this quote, spoken by a person with refugee status: “I try to think like a refugee but I don’t know how.” Let’s break this down. Someone who is granted eligibility for refuge is a person who had a life prior to conflict with a desire to move their personhood beyond a label, beyond a definition, and beyond a certain narrative. All of those who have refugee status are people with authority, autonomy, and eligibility. Their self-determination must have full recognition. When this understanding of a refugee is fully realized by the host, ‘existential transactions of worth’ can be realized.

Photo taken in 1978, in a refugee camp on Koh Paed, Thailand. Coping with Disaster: Vietnamese Refugees in Thailand

Recognition is central in the ‘trust formation’ of the refugee-host relationship. Sponsors need to be able to establish an identity as the ‘we of trusted contact’. This means recognizing a person with refugee status as a person with past, present and future beyond ‘refugee’. If a sponsor can recognize a refugee as a person of self-rescue and as a person with deliberative authority, the sponsor thus acknowledges their worth and self-determination. This is the best way to establish trust.

Social media is an incredible tool in ‘trust formation’.  The refugee-host relationship can start before personal contact is made. Sponsors can put into practice ‘existential transactions of worth’ by establishing virtual contact and asking the refugee or refugee family their preferences for a multitude of elements (apartment, furniture, food, other amenities) that will create and shape their life in Canada. According to Professor Kyriakides, sponsors who were able to better establish trusted contact saw more success in resettlement. Hosts must recognize the autonomy of those receiving sponsorship and establish trust and contact through ‘existential transactions of worth.’ The life of a human being does not begin with refuge and, thus, their lives should not be defined by a policy, definition or single narrative.

Note: all phrases and terms in quotations are direct quotations from Dr. Kyriakides and *are used with his permission*.