Refugee Advocates Find Growing Support for Private Sponsorship

By Joe Jenkins

Today’s refugee crisis is the worst the world has seen in generations. But it’s not only a devastating manifestation of the conflict and instability of the Middle East, it’s also a global logistics problem for all who are empathetic to the millions of children and families that have been displaced from their homes.

Some countries have declared their intent to be part of the solution, but many are skeptical that the developed world is doing its fair share, given the ubiquity and scope of the problem. While the world’s humanitarian response to this dilemma leaves much to be desired, some nations are pioneering new methods of ensuring that refugees are getting the resources they need to be a part of their own solution.

Since 1979, Canada has pioneered a private sponsorship system which allows private citizens to step up with resources and support to bring additional refugees on top of the refugees the government resettles each year. Sponsors not only give monetary assistance to refugees for rent and food, but also help them integrate into their new communities. The Huffington Post reports that at least 13 countries are looking to emulate the Canadian system, along with a host of U.S. refugee resettlement advocates.

“Americans have long supported the ideal of providing refuge for the persecuted. At a time when there are more refugees fleeing violence and persecution than at any time since World War II, private sponsorship would allow for a greater number of refugees to rebuild their lives in safety in the United States,” said Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley, citing a recent brief proposing private sponsorship.

In most western nations (like the United States), resettling refugees is directed by the government, which dictates how many and which refugees receive that golden ticket to a new life. But resettlement is only part of the solution. Half the battle is finding money to fund the resettlement system, a painstaking process which brings only .05% of the world’s refugees to the United States. The other, less visible part of the job is making sure that refugees have the opportunity to thrive. The current system in the United States is a public-private partnership with funds and co-sponsorship from communities across the country.

The Obama Administration has started taking a keen interest in private “adopt-a-refugee” resettlement plans. Amid a long-simmering debate over spending for public programs, such a move would demonstrate broad support for the importance of refugee resettlement. It would also allow sympathetic citizens to show their support for the downtrodden, a long-standing American tradition. According to Quigley, a private sponsorship program should boost the number of refugees the country can resettle in the future.

Betsy Fisher, Policy Director at the International Refugee Assistance Program, also offered that private sponsorship of refugees “is about expanding bridges between local communities and refugees in need,” and “has the potential to increase the number of refugees who can be resettled, while also allowing American sponsors to build direct and personal relationships with refugees.”

Quigley and Fisher stress that a proposed American private sponsorship program would be in addition to the current system of resettling refugees, not replacing it. The pair also points out that any refugee entering the proposed privately-sponsored system would still undergo the thorough vetting system that all others go through.

Even with the successes of private sponsorship systems like the one employed in Canada, many refugees leave behind countless family members and loved ones who weren’t so lucky—and who may still be in peril. This New York Times article gives us a glimpse at what some Canadian refugees are facing, so far away now from the dangers that forced them to flee, yet still in contact with those they left behind.

“Enjoy every sip of cold water, because I have none. . . Your brother was jailed because his papers expired. He needs $900 to renew them or he will be arrested again . . . Can you bring us to Canada?” writes one relative to a Syrian family now comfortably living in Toronto with an adopted host family. Such messages no doubt tear at the emotions of Americans who only wish they could do more. It’s high time that the U.S. refugee resettlement program let them.

The State Department announced it will consider implementing a private sponsorship pilot program that may pave the way for a full-scale option in the future, signaling that the United States is willing to pursue more innovation to our public-private resettlement system and compassion to help more of the world’s 65 million-plus refugees rebuild their lives.

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Published on October 27, 2016

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