Does America Have Something to Learn From Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program?
BY: Andrew Hansen/Contributing Writer
In October of 2015, President Barack Obama pledged in front of the American public to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. in response to the growing refugee crisis. After his announcement, many criticized that this number was far below the actual number that America is able to host with its expansive resources and financial ability. Yet, nearing a year since the Obama Administration’s decision, the American public is once again at a crossroads on how to proceed in regards to the Syrian refugee crisis, with a looming election overhead.
U.S. refugee policy lags far behind countries with advanced refugee resettlement programs, such as Canada. In Canada, private households are allowed to sponsor refugees, an ability that is restricted in the U.S. While several calls from the Arab American community have surfaced in the recent years asking the government to allow private sponsorship, especially from the 170,000 Arab Americans with family members in Syria, the opportunity to privately host refugees has not yet become a reality.
Around the time the Obama Administration announced the admittance of 10,000 refugees, the Huffington Post published an article about Lina Sergie Attar, an Arab American born in Syria, who is now living in an upscale suburban town outside Chicago. Attar spoke out on her wish to privately host a Syrian refugee family. As a mother of two, Attar felt that because she had enough money and adequate space accommodations, she should be allowed to privately host Syrian refugees. In fact, Attar’s parents who had both been successful physicians in Aleppo, came to the U.S. with just four suitcases in 2012 to flee the violence happening in Syria.
To enact change on the private hosting policy, Attar founded the Karam Foundation, which is a non-profit organization designed to raise money and awareness for Syrian refugees coming to America, while actively pushing for private sponsorship.
Attar’s story voices the opinion of countless Arab Americans who have family in Syria and wish to privately help Syrian families in need. While Americans are able to donate large sums of money to non-government organizations that are able to sponsor refugees, many Americans feel that private sponsorship similar to Canada’s program would be more efficient.
In Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is a government organization that approves private households to host refugees. However, in order to do so, refugees who wish to come to Canada must be deemed eligible for sponsorship by the CIC, meaning that they must not have previously live in Canada, and must come from a place where their safety is in jeopardy.
Once a visa officer has approved the refugee, they are permitted to relocate to Canada, and the responsibility transfers to the private sponsors. The private sponsor then assumes all paperwork, travel expenses, and living accommodations for the sponsored refugees. Once the refugees are in Canada, their private sponsors must guarantee that the refugee has access to education, health services, clothes, utilities, emotional support, and social networking. In short, “the government expects sponsors to provide a level of support that’s at least equal to social assistance rates in the province,” according to CTV News.
Yet, what is truly remarkable about Canada’s private sponsorship program is how it has adapted to accommodate the growing needs of the refugee crisis in Syria. Since the numbers of persons affected by the Syrian war have drastically grown in the past few years, Canada has relaxed their guidelines on which refugees can be eligible for sponsorship as well as some of the financial burden that falls on the private sponsors themselves. In order to do this, the Canadian government has offered access to free healthcare for incoming refugees.
Private sponsorship programs are good because individual people can ensure the safety, health, education, and welfare of refugees. When the refugee program is run by the government, essential processes like finding an apartment, a job, or language courses get slowed down by bureaucracy and limited resources. In many countries hosting refugees, including Canada, the enormity of the migrant refugee population makes it difficult for the government to provide an adequate quality of life. Whereas with private sponsorship, the issue of housing is taken care of, which simultaneously guarantees school registration. Furthermore, there’s daily interaction with English speakers, which helps the refugees find jobs sooner.
It is the belief of many Americans that there is much to learn from the CIC program in Canada, and the U.S. should be doing more to alleviate the strains of the refugee crisis in Syria. In order to do so, Americans have some crucial decisions to make. With Republican nominee Donald Trump pushing to altogether ban Syrian refugees from entering the country, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton promotes increasing the number of refugees admitted into the United States, the November presidential election will also decide whether the U.S. will help improve the lives of millions of people in dire need of safety.