In fiscal year 2016, the United States aims to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. Canada, on the other hand, is on track to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees—from November 2015 to February of this year! The stark discrepancy is amplified by the fact that the United States has a population ten times greater than Canada’s.
How is it that a nation with almost one-tenth of the population and a more modest GDP is far more willing to accept more Syrians fleeing violence and persecution?
There are three key reasons: overflowing compassion from the Canadian people and lawmakers, a streamlined refugee screening process, and the use of private refugee sponsorship. Clearly, there is a lot the United States can learn from its northern neighbor.
First, Canadian lawmakers have demonstrated great courage and empathy in accepting refugees from war-torn areas. A new report finds that 470,000 Syrians have died in the war since 2011. American politicians have fallen prey to fear as they call to reject refugees—a rejection of the classic American ethos of welcoming the most vulnerable. Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been a powerful voice championing refugee resettlement, even greeting new arrivals at the airport with hugs and winter jackets.
Second, Canada has aptly sensed the urgency of the Syrian crisis, and accordingly has sped up their refugee screening process. Five hundred additional Canadian officials were sent to Jordan and Lebanon to screen candidates. The entire operation, from the original application to ultimate arrival in Canada, is only a 10 month process—far more expedient than the United States’ two to three-year ordeal. And no evidence suggests their approach is any less safe than ours. Indeed, Canada is relying on American intelligence and databases for its own reviews.
The third crucial component is that the Canadian resettlement process empowers humanitarian organizations, community actors, and individual donors to play a pivotal role in aiding refugees. Since 1979, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program has resettled 235,000 refugees from over 140 countries with private resources.
From November 2015 to the end of February 2016, the Canadian government seeks to resettle a total of 25,000 Syrians. Ten thousand of them—forty percent of Canada’s goal—will come via private sponsorship. This means that the Canadian private sector will resettle the same number of refugees in 4 months that the United States government will in 12 months.
Private sponsorship works because it links compassionate Canadians to refugees. It enables Canadians to sponsor their families, friends, and strangers that have been caught in the crossfires of turmoil. And it fosters lifelong relationships between refugees and sponsors.
According to a 2007 study conducted by the Canadian government, privately-sponsored refugees become self-supporting far more quickly than those sponsored by government. Privately-sponsored refugees also report higher levels of satisfaction with their resettlement experience.
Private refugee sponsorship is endorsed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, among other scholars and think-tank officials. Influential billionaires, like George Soros, have also expressed their approval of the idea, suggesting significant funding may also be available in the United States.
The Obama Administration should show the world that the United States once again is a champion for refugees and vulnerable people. While Canada deserves a humanitarian round of applause for their resettlement program, the United States could respond similarly. The president should pop the cap off American generosity, streamlining the refugee process and legalizing private refugee sponsorship.
The Syrian crisis is the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our time. At present, history will not judge the American response—or lack thereof—kindly. We can turn that around, but we have to act quickly. The American people are no less generous or welcoming than the Canadian people, and it’s time that we prove it.
Op-ed by Matthew La Corte; re-printed by ILW