Since the start of the war in Syria five years ago, just 3,600 Syrian refugees, out of the six million displaced, have been resettled in the United States.
That’s just 0.00075 percent.
It’s a startlingly inadequate response to the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. The United States has done next to nothing as the death toll mounts and desperation intensifies. And just last month, 500 more refugees drowned in the Mediterranean.
American political leaders on both side of the aisle have failed. The Obama Administration has resettled just 17 percent of its modest 2016 Syrian refugee goal so far this year.
Meanwhile, some Republicans have called for pausing, slowing, or abolishing the Syrian refugee program entirely.
Yet many Americans recognize that there are millions of innocent, peaceful Syrian desperately in need of help. My organization has received emails from people asking how to get involved, how to volunteer, and how to contribute to refugee resettlement.
The American people can and should be able to help.
Here’s how: let’s crowdfund the cost of resettlement for 50 Syrian families — one family per state. We can tap into America’s compassionate, philanthropic spirit, and leverage our existing technological platforms. Let’s show our dithering bureaucrats and politicians that Americans don’t accept sitting on the sidelines as people die.
We can demonstrate to Washington that, with real money and tangible support, the American public is ready and willing to help.
Many church groups, charities, ethnic organizations, businesses, and generous individuals would love to contribute and help Syrian families regain safety and normalcy in their lives by resettling in the United States.
The problem is that, under the current system, there is very little they can do. Only the government can decide to increase refugee admissions. It doesn’t matter that many thousands of Americans are willing to open their homes to refugees, or that thousands of churches and charities are ready and able to raise funds for their resettlement.
If crowdfunding can help college kids make short movies, raising raising funds from friends, family, and strangers, then it can also help save the lives of Syrian families.
The OECD estimates the first-year cost of resettling a refugee is about $10,000. Let’s say a family includes five people. So bringing 50 Syrian families to the United States — 250 people — would cost about $2.5 million.
Considering the fact that Americans contributed $350 billion to charitable organizations in 2014, $2.5 million is a drop in the bucket for us, but it would be priceless for those we save.
Here’s how it would work. The State Department could create a fund that collects contributions.
A coalition of private partners with powerful voices — humanitarian organizations, NGOs, philanthropists, corporations, and celebrities — would promote the project far and wide.
When the $2.5 million threshold is met, 50 Syrian families already in the refugee pipeline who have already undergone rigorous security checks will start their trips to the United States.
This small increase in admissions — just 250 people — won’t overburden any state or local municipalities and the costs to the federal government would be negligible.
Donations would come from all corners of the country. Millennials could chip in $10 here or $20 there. Businesses run by refugees could contribute a day’s profits to the goal. Generous family foundations could give thousands. College groups could have bake sales. A few millionaire and billionaire philanthropists could cover major portions of funding. Most importantly, Syrian Americans could help contribute money to resettle their friends and family.
And nearly 16,000 individuals signed a petition that calls for the U.S. to launch a private sponsorship option for refugees.
If we build it, the money will come. And with the funding comes a second chance at life for some Syrians. Devastating earthquakes, hurricanes, and other disasters worldwide usually spur a massive outpouring of support from Americans — in the hundreds of millions!
If the experiment is successful, it can be scaled up. A small-scale success can show proof of concept and demonstrate the special combination of American benevolence and technology that can save families on the run from terror.
This type of pilot project would send a quantifiable signal to policymakers that the American people are serious about resettlement. It may not sway Republicans panicked about Islamic terrorism, but those serious about maintaining America’s moral leadership will be hard pressed to not be moved by such an outpouring of support.
The State Department recently said that “The United States joins UNHCR in calling for new ways nations, civil society, the private sector, and individuals can together address the global refugee challenge.” However, the United States currently has no system in place to harness the immense capacity of its vital private sector to help alleviate the crisis.
Other countries are doing better. Since last November, Canada has resettled 11,000 Syrian refugees using funds raised partially or fully from the private sector. Jim Estill, a Canadian businessman, singlehandedly helped bring 50 families to Canada. American businessmen would do the same — if they could.
In Italy, church groups have resettled 1,000 refugees using funds from their congregations.
A host of nations including Germany, Argentina, Ireland, Iceland, and Australia have jumped on the trend of private-sector refugee funding and sponsorship. Disappointingly, the United States has yet to follow suit.
There are community organizations, church groups, and individuals across the country that are ready to open their hearts, homes, and wallets to Syrian refugees.
Contact your representatives in Washington and let them know you want the freedom to invest in the future of more Syrian families in America.
Speak to your neighbors, members in your religious congregation, and coworkers about contributing to an dynamic crowdfunding campaign to save lives of those on the run.
We are living in the midst of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II. It’s time for the American people to show that they are not willing to remain on the sidelines, and are ready to channel their vast philanthropic resources to helping the millions of displaced people around the globe.
Op-ed by Matthew La Corte; originally in Medium