Antonio Guterres, the former head of the United Nations refugee agency, implored governments earlier this year to massively increase the scale of private-sector expertise and funding to help deal with the devastating international refugee crisis. Canada’s approach is already serving as a model for many countries, and the United States should join that list.
As of last month, Canada had resettled over 25,000 Syrian refugees in just four months and 43% of them — 10,999 people — were resettled using funds raised partially or entirely from private individuals, church groups, and businesses. Canada’s embrace of privately-funded refugee resettlement is part of an encouraging international trend of tapping into the private sector to increase overall refugee resettlement.
Germany, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and Italy are now following Canada’s example, launching initiatives to provide refugees a path to resettling using private funds. The United Kingdom is also considering establishing a similar program.
The United Nations describes the refugee crisis as the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our time. Syria is the epicenter of this crisis, with about 470,000 civilians having been killed since 2011, and 12 million having been forced from their homes. Scores of refugees flee war-torn countries on a daily basis, and Europe is buckling under the pressure to host the surges of displaced individuals.
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year announced a plan to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. Over 10,000 refugees were brought to Canada either through private sponsorship, or a special program that blends private and public sector money.
The massive Canadian resettlement operation spanned over 250 communities, raised tens of millions of dollars in private contributions, and resulted in nearly 100 planes of Syrian refugees arriving into the country. The program is continuing, with 16,000 refugee applications currently in the approval process. According to government officials, up to 50,000 Syrian refugees will be able to call Canada home by the end of 2016.
Canada’s example, combined with the endorsement of privately-funded refugee resettlement by the United Nations, has led other nations to recently adopt similar programs. Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland offer individuals and community groups the ability to sponsor refugees. Nearly all the German states operate private sponsorship programs that emphasize family reunification, and they have resettled over 20,000 Syrians through such programs so far. Italy has launched a small pilot project to airlift and welcome 1,000 refugees using funds from church congregations.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the United States’ relative lack of participation in this global push for philanthropy. Aside from having one of the most robust world economies, the United States has strong traditions of philanthropy and multiculturalism, and was built by individuals fleeing persecution. Yet the government’s response to the crisis, far heavier on funding than on accepting refugees, has been at best insufficient and at worst utterly shameful.
Conversations about what we can do to mitigate the devastation from the global refugee crisis have failed to gain traction, despite the support that many community groups, lawmakers, and philanthropists have already pledged towards privately funded resettlement.
The time has come for the United States to launch a privately-funded refugee resettlement operation. The steps for implementing such a U.S. program are clearly articulated in newly released paper by David Bier and myself. As we make clear, additional government spending in this tumultuous domestic political climate would not be necessary if the private sector embraces the initiative.
Last year, nine Syrian, Muslim, Arab, and Turkish organizations endorsed privately-funded refugee resettlement in a letter to the Obama administration. Sen. Ron Johnson and representatives Zoe Lofgren and John Conyers have expressed interest in the idea. George Soros is among the notable philanthropists who embrace the concept of private refugee sponsorship and would certainly be able to contribute sizable sums of money to the effort.
There is compelling evidence from Canada and elsewhere that private resettlement is manageable, affordable and effective. The United States should become a leader of this trend. Its proud legacies of diversity, compassion, and philanthropy demands nothing less.
Op-ed by Matthew La Corte; originally in USA Today