According to UNHCR, approximately 60,000 refugees of the 1,400,000 UNHCR designated most vulnerable refugees were resettled in western countries in 2019 (approximately 4%). We prefer to use broader definitions of both total refugees (regardless of current vulnerability designation)—25.9 million—and resettlement (which includes Canada’s private sponsorship program)—80,000. The result is an even more pitiful 0.3% resettlement rate.
Our particular focus on refugee resettlement is based on a fundamental belief we have that for resettlement to be successful, it must have deep, community-based, bottom-up support. That has the important, additional win-win benefit of involving the community and creating an opportunity for local families to experience the benefits of Welcoming the Stranger.
Our family’s personal experience with Community Sponsorship started in 2016 when we partnered with Jewish Family Service of Metrowest, HIAS and eight Boston area synagogues (including our own, Temple Beth Elohim) in a pilot project to resettle eight Syrian families. Three years later, these families are happy, healthy, employed, attending school and integrated. They continue to receive informal support/friendship from members of the community sponsor groups (including our own). This experience was life-changing for our entire family, and is in large part the basis of our ongoing global efforts to support community sponsored refugee resettlement.
In early 2017, recognizing that the United States was not likely to be hospitable to expanded resettlement programs, we turned our attention internationally. We were introduced to a coalition called The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI), led by The Refugee Hub at University of Ottawa, The Open Society Foundations (OSF), UNHCR and the government of Canada. GRSI’s mission is to: “share Canada’s experience and support the adoption of similar models in other countries. The ultimate goal is to increase refugee protection by mobilizing the compassion that exists in communities around the world.” Programs are underway in: The UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Argentina and New Zealand.
In 2018, we learned that approximately 1,000 Canadian spaces under one of the three resettlement programs (called BVOR, which matches UNHCR most vulnerable refugees with private sponsors) were not going to be filled and would expire at the end of the calendar year. Recognizing that these scarce Canadian resettlement spaces had become the most coveted lottery tickets in the eyes of refugees in every corner of the planet, we vowed to do whatever we could to preserve them.
Our thesis was that the financial burden on sponsor groups was severely limiting participation, and financial capacity should not be a barrier to sponsorship. Working closely with our partners at The Refugee Hub at UOttawa, the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), UNHCR, The Giustra Foundation, and Jewish Family Service of Ottawa, we created and funded a program (BVOR Fund) which would provide qualified sponsors with the funding they needed to be matched with a refugee family for resettlement. The program was a tremendous success, and with several of our philanthropic partners joining us, the result was the resettlement of 668 refugees in 2018. After being renewed in 2019, another 517 were matched. We are currently working with IRCC and other partners to leverage our experience and implement another version of the program for 2020 (and beyond).
Inspired by our success with community sponsorship in Boston and Canada, we recently launched a pilot project in the UK to resettle orphan refugees. Our partners Home for Good, Reset and Social Finance UK have identified communities which have both community sponsorship programs and foster care in an attempt utilize resettlement spaces under the “Dubs Amendment” under the Immigration Act of 2016.
In the US, we are working with our partners at OSF and IRIS (Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services) to advance a form of community sponsorship (co-sponsorship) which aims to expand Canadian-style private sponsorship with the cooperation of national and local resettlement agencies.
Back in Canada, we have an exciting pilot project in Pictou County, Nova Scotia to expand resettlement via a new federal program called EMPP—Economic Mobility Pathways Project. The goal is to utilize EMPP to match skilled refugees in Kenya and the Middle East with employers seeking to fill vacant jobs. Working with IRCC, three organizations in Pictou— The Pictou County Regional Enterprise Network (PCREN), Safe Harbor and Glen Haven Manor— along with international partners RefugePoint and Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), we are hoping to create a model which will result in dozens of incremental refugees being resettled, with jobs and the deep involvement of the community, in Pictou in 2020. Our plan is to identify other rural Canadian cities with similar employment needs which can be met through identification and matching with skilled refugees. This program is purely incremental, with refugee-sponsor matches being executed outside of the current Canadian resettlement programs.
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