In a major effort to open the door to more refugees, the Biden administration will begin inviting ordinary Americans to directly sponsor the arrival of thousands of displaced people from around the world into their communities.
A new policy allowing ordinary citizens to participate in the resettlement of vulnerable families, announced Thursday, marks the most significant shift in the U.S. refugee program since its inception more than 40 years ago.
Since 1980, nine federally funded nonprofit organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee and HIAS, have been tasked with managing all refugee relocation to the United States, including finding housing and work for arriving families, as well as enrolling them in English classes and helping them get medical appointments and learn bus routes.
Under the new program, called “Welcome Corps”, individuals will now take on the logistical and financial responsibility for helping thousands of refugees adjust to life in the United States.
The initiative is similar to a model used in fifteen countries, including Canada, where it has been in place for many years and considered very effective by reception experts.
Turning to ordinary Americans to facilitate refugee settlement could dramatically increase the number of displaced people resettled from Africa, the Middle East and other troubled regions – and also pay the cost instead of the government. The number of refugees welcomed into the United States has plummeted under the Trump administration, which gutted the refugee admissions infrastructure, both in the United States and abroad, where vulnerable people seeking refuge are checked, questioned and processed.
Change of direction
Senior officials from the State Department, which is implementing the new initiative, said it is part of the administration’s broader program to strengthen, modernize, and expand the U.S. development program. reception of refugees. It can also serve to build public support for refugee resettlement, which is important to achieving U.S. foreign policy goals, they added.
“We believe that by engaging more Americans in this effort, we will rebuild broad public support for the refugee resettlement program,” said Julieta Valls Noyes, assistant secretary of the Office of Population, Refugees and Migration at the Department of State, before the launch of the program.
Nonprofits contracted by the State Department to handle refugee resettlement have struggled since the Trump administration slashed the program, reducing annual refugee arrivals from 70,000 to about 11,000. , which has forced organizations to lay off staff and cease operations in many locations.
President Joe Biden took office pledging to welcome thousands more refugees. Nonprofits were still rebooting when the US exodus from Afghanistan in August 2021 led to a mass evacuation of allies. Limited resources were diverted to evacuees, and refugees from other countries, some of whom had already been waiting for years to reach the United States, were further delayed.
The new private sponsorship initiative aims to expand program capacity and speed up arrivals. To participate, groups of at least five people wishing to sponsor a refugee family must raise at least US$2,275 (approximately C$3,000) per refugee. Private sponsors will have to provide the same general support to new refugee families as non-profit agencies, which will continue to resettle the vast majority of refugees.
In the first year of Welcome Corps, the goal is to mobilize at least 10,000 Americans to help at least 5,000 refugees, and then expand the program to make it a permanent part of the refugee welcome system. The first refugees to be assisted by private sponsors are expected to arrive in April.
We hope that this program will be as well known and that it will mobilize as many Americans as the Peace Corps. It will tap into the energy, expertise and resources of communities across the country and strengthen them in the process.
Julieta Valls Noyes, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the State Department
“It’s not a panacea, but putting sponsorship in American hands could dramatically increase America’s ability to take in refugees,” said Sasha Chanoff, CEO of nonprofit RefugePoint. charity that identifies refugees from around the world for resettlement in the United States and other countries.
Afghan and Ukrainian refugees
The private sponsorship model has already been piloted over the past two years with refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.
In these cases, private sponsors have been invited to come forward to increase the capacity of overstretched resettlement agencies.
In October 2021, the State Department partnered with the Community Sponsorship Hub, a nonprofit that partnered with local and national organizations to launch a sponsorship circle program for Afghans.
Americans from 33 states have formed groups in churches, synagogues and among friends to raise funds and help Afghan families. “We’ve found that Americans are eager to host and willing to do so when given the opportunity,” said Sarah Krause, CEO and co-founder of the Community Sponsorship Hub.
The Community Sponsorship Center will screen and certify private sponsors who apply online at welcomecorps.org, a process that will involve background checks and proof of financial capability. The latter will not receive government money, but philanthropic funds may become available in the future for private citizens who wish to participate but cannot afford to do so.
Once matched, U.S. sponsors will be responsible for directly providing essential assistance to refugees during their first 90 days in their community. This assistance includes helping refugees find housing and employment, enrolling children in school, and connecting refugees to essential services in the community.
“I would do it again”
California Wealth Manager Mary Brooks heard about the possibility of sponsoring a family on social media in September 2021, a month after the United States withdrew from Afghanistan. Before you even know it, Mr.me Brooks and her husband, Peter, formed a sponsorship circle with other members of their community in Walnut Creek, raised the necessary funds and received training on their responsibilities as well as an overview of how to deal with cultural differences and trauma.
They were matched with an Afghan family, Abrahim and Fakhria Amirzad and their four children, who arrived in Walnut Creek on December 30.
The godparents found temporary accommodation for the Amirzads, had the children vaccinated and enrolled in school, and gave the couple driving lessons. A community member donated a van to accommodate the large family, which now includes five children.
Mary Brooks is surprised at how quickly the family has adapted: the couple’s eldest child, Bibi Ayesha, 11, has joined the scouts. Abrahim Amirzad, a medic at a US military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, is taking a course in phlebotomy, the first step towards achieving his goal of returning to his profession.
“We have received so much more than we have given,” Ms.me Brooks, 68, pointing out that the 90-day commitment extended beyond a year due to the deep bond that formed between the family and their band.
“I would personally be ready to do it again,” she added. It changes a family’s life forever. »
Amirzad said his family has thrived on this personalized attention.
“The sponsorship circle has been with us every step of the way,” he said. Anything we needed, day or night, we knew there were people to call to help us. »
This article was originally published in the New York Times.
- 3.2 million
- Number of refugees the United States has welcomed since the Refugee Act of 1980 was passed. The majority of them are now U.S. citizens.
Source : The New York Times