A growing number of countries have been developing sponsorship programs and complementary pathways such as existing work or study channels that engage host-community volunteers in supporting the welcome, settlement and integration of refugees. These programs can vary considerably in their design, including their duration and level of commitment from volunteers. But a common challenge they face — and one that often receives insufficient attention — is how refugees will transition out of these programs and be best supported as they begin to independently navigate life in their new country.

A Migration Policy Institute Europe issue brief out today outlines the importance of getting this transition right. A timely, well-structured and clear transition strategy can facilitate a smooth end to program support, advance refugees’ self-sufficiency and integration, promote volunteer retention and social cohesion, and boost long-term program sustainability.

The brief, Supporting Self-Sufficiency: Considerations for refugees’ transition out of sponsorship and complementary pathways programs, highlights common obstacles to a smooth transition. These include mismatched expectations from both refugees and volunteers about what to expect during and after the program support period, as well as refugees’ limited ability or willingness to work toward self-sufficiency while still grappling with family separation and trauma.

Drawing from examples of European, Canadian and other refugee programs, the analysis identifies lessons learnt about how program organizers and volunteers can best support refugees’ transition to independent living and toward longer-term integration. Experience demonstrates that self-sufficiency can be boosted if pre- and post-arrival trainings help shape expectations and dispel misunderstandings, refugees take part in setting up a transition plan that caters to their needs and goals and refugee awareness of non-program-based services can be boosted.

“A successful transition to autonomy demands meticulous planning (including carefully defining success and setting priorities), realistic expectations, clear relationship boundaries, close follow-up and a broad network of support,” MPI Europe Associate Policy Analyst María Belén Zanzuchi writes.

“It also requires a focus on refugee empowerment, striking a delicate balance between volunteers helping refugees settle in, fostering their independence and encouraging them to pursue their own aspirations. These efforts can enhance refugee autonomy as well as program sustainability and effectiveness.”

The issue brief is part of the Complementary Pathways Network (COMET) Project, which is co-funded by the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), which aims to develop a blueprint for complementary pathways in Europe by building the capacity of receiving communities and by creating common tools and quality standards for refugee matching, pre-departure orientation, reception and post-arrival support.