As the world experiences the highest number of refugees since WWII, Americans are asking what they can do to help.
Refugee resettlement is a life-saving solution currently available to less than one-percent of the world’s refugees. The United States is a leader in humanitarian assistance and refugee resettlement, but we can and should do much more to help refugees find safety. By welcoming people who have fled their homes to save their own lives, we strengthen our communities and our country.
The Refugee Act of 1980 created the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) as a public-private partnership working to bring refugees to safety in the United States. Government funding combined with private resources form the foundation of the program. Private actors, including businesses, community groups, individual volunteers, local organizations, and philanthropic organizations have always played an essential role in welcoming and assisting refugees as they rebuild their lives in communities across the United States.
Given the scope of the need and the interest of people of all faiths and backgrounds to support refugees and increase resettlement, Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) seeks to raise awareness about existing opportunities for private citizens, citizen groups and private institutions to help refugees. RCUSA also seeks to explore new and innovative ways, including private resettlement, to expand and strengthen the U.S. refugee resettlement program.
Here are just some of the ways Americans who want to help refugees today can do so:
● Individual donors and groups of individuals can partner with one of the 350 resettlement offices around the country to help resettle one or more refugee families. This can include helping pay the costs for housing, donating school supplies, groceries, and clothing. It can also include mentorship or volunteering to orient refugees to their new communities.
● Individuals and groups can bolster capacity for resettlement by donating directly to one of the nine private refugee resettlement agencies in the United States or to other community-based organizations that participate as local partners in the refugee resettlement program.
● Employing refugees has been shown to be good business. Businesses can provide vocational training, participate in job fairs, and provide employment to newly arrived refugees. Businesses can also donate needed supplies or products to agencies and refugees, sponsor services such as ESL-classes and childcare, facilitate training opportunities such as financial literacy, and support employment of refugees locally.
● Private funds can support specialized re-certification or re-credentialing programs for refugees who arrive with valuable professional skills. This would allow highly skilled refugees to contribute to their new communities quickly in jobs that make use of the education, expertise, and talents they acquired before resettling in the U.S.
● Private support can expand the Matching Grant Program, an alternative to public cash assistance for newly arrived refugees that provides services to enable refugees to become economically self-sufficient within their first six months in the United States. The program requires private resources to “match” federal funds.
While the current resettlement system allows for private entities or individuals to significantly engage with and welcome refugees and contribute to their success, there has been an increase in demand for opportunities to do more. The Canadian refugee system, which allows for private sponsorship of refugees, has spurred interest in creating a similar program in the U.S.
A private sponsorship model would provide an opportunity for private individuals or groups to play a bigger role in resettlement by making them responsible for providing funds for the services needed by newly arrived refugees. In addition to financial support, private sponsors would be more directly responsible for providing welcome to refugees, including guidance and mentorship while the refugees adjust to their new communities.
RCUSA believes that the U.S. should create additional and more direct opportunities for private citizens to engage with newly arriving refugees. To do so, the U.S. should consider creating a private sponsorship program that:
● Increases the number of refugees admitted while maintaining and strengthening U.S. government commitments to resettle refugees.
● Ensures coordination with and builds on the expertise of the national resettlement agencies and their networks of local agencies with private sponsors. The resettlement agencies are in the best position to assist with the implementation of this program and can offer support and assistance as necessary.
● Maintains the principles of non-discrimination and needs-based access to the program and ensures that the most vulnerable refugees, as identified by UNHCR, continue to be prioritized for access to U.S. resettlement.
● Makes certain that refugees receive the assistance that they need to thrive, providing baseline levels of support and services to all refugees, whether they are assisted through private sponsorship or through the existing public-private program.
● Includes training, monitoring and vetting of sponsors to safeguard refugee wellbeing, as well as an evaluation component to ensure that refugees are provided with appropriate assistance and to measure the success of the program’s outcomes.
Ordinary citizens want to know how they can help resettle refugees. Their desire to get involved is a true reflection of the American spirit. While the U.S. government coordinates the admission of refugees, it is ordinary people that welcome them into communities across the country. By taking advantage of these opportunities, citizens not only change the lives of refugees but also enrich their own lives and communities.