With President Biden announced this week The refugee supporters collectively breathed a sigh of relief that his government would raise the upper limit for the admission of refugees to 62,500 this fiscal year. The number is well above the historically low limit of 15,000 refugees set by the Trump administration. Biden’s announcement was a blatant turning point after weeks of rebound from refugee lawyers. outraged by an earlier order Keeping the limit of 15,000.
Anur Abdella (center), a refugee from Sudan, with colleagues from the moving company where he works in Connecticut. A multi-faith team of local volunteers has helped Abdella, his wife, and children find their way into their new life in U.S. caption Deborah Amos / NPR
Deborah Amos / NPR
Deborah Amos / NPR
One of those who are most excited about this week’s announcement is Ed Shapiro, a Boston-based philanthropist and advocate of reshaping the U.S. refugee resettlement system to enable much more community-based efforts.
“It’s the beginning of a new era of resettlement,” he says.
Biden’s goal, in a key concept in a February Executive Orderintroduces “Community and Private Sponsorship” as an innovation that enables local groups of volunteers to become part of the relocation community, including the daily chores of helping newcomers find housing, jobs, health care and a sense of community.
The US usually relocates refugees in a different way: the State Department signs contracts with nine major relocation organizations. Volunteers play a role, but the program focuses on professional caseworkers. Everything is done quietly so that the communities don’t reject the newcomers.
Now the higher cap on refugee admission means Shapiro can finally accelerate a project that has preoccupied him for four years. Its aim is to fund pilot programs to expand traditional resettlement infrastructure. “There’s pent-up demand and interest,” he says. “These are people, families, who want to help.”
He worked with the Open Society Foundation and other funders to develop a pool of donors and raised $ 800,000 for grants that were given to eight US community groups in seven states in March. Another round of scholarship recipients will be announced this month.
The proposals are moving testimonies, says Shapiro. One from New Orleans came from a multi-faith community group that included representatives from the oldest Jewish temple in the United States and a Roman Catholic community. The proposal referred to the trauma of Hurricane Katrina – the scorching experience that forced her to apply, Shapiro says.
“We had to flee our homes for fear of our lives without knowing whether we could come back. Now we want to take advantage of that,” he said, the applicants told him in their proposal.
After President Biden officially opened the door to more refugee flows this year, these community-based resettlement projects can begin their work.
“This is the moment we have been waiting for. We have an administration that is not Trump. We have seen the commitment, the executive orders and the focus on sponsorship. Now is the time for it,” says Shapiro.
He looked to Canada for inspiration and guidance. “You are the leader,” he says. “My starting point was that I want to learn from them.”
Canada’s 42-year-old refugee sponsorship training program has pioneered and relocated the community in refugee resettlement over 300,000 Refugees. Canadian private individuals provide initial financial support. Over the next year, this program is expected to relocate 22,500 refugees, almost twice as many as the Canadian government – although the pandemic has slowed the pace of arrivals.
“It’s popular,” says Geoffrey Cameron, co-author of Strangers to Neighbors, a recent book about the resettlement program. “The right likes the program because it privatizes things and emphasizes the actions of the citizens.” The left, he says, like it because refugees are better integrated in less time than in state resettlement programs.
The largest test for the program took place in November 2015 when it was responsible for 25,000 Syrian refugees admitted to Canada over 100 days. At the time, about a quarter of Canada’s population knew someone sponsoring Syrian refugees, Cameron says.
He was surprised at what he saw Opinion polls in the following years.
“Attitudes towards immigrants have improved, which is not to be expected,” he says, noting the backlash in European countries like Germany, which have taken in large numbers of refugees. “In Canada you actually saw not a backlash but a warming effect. I think part of that must be down to a personal connection that many people have had.”
The Canadian polls come as no surprise to Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, the official resettlement agency in New Haven, Connecticut. It is a non-profit organization hired by the State Department to relocate refugees, but it also follows the Canadian model. George has seen a similar surge in support near his home due to the program he is running.
“Our main reason for encouraging community resettlement – we’ve learned through experience that this is the best way to educate Americans about refugees and increase public support for resettlement,” he says.
IRIS has trained more than 50 community groups across the state over the past five years. At least 10 volunteers must raise at least $ 4,000 to help refugees start their new lives.
“The model we have here in Connecticut has received a lot of attention,” says George. “As soon as the numbers [of incoming refugees] I think you will see more and more cases with community groups. “
Cynthia Dunn, a businesswoman in Danbury, joined a multi-faith group that included a local synagogue, church, and mosque. The group raised more than $ 15,000 and brought together 30 dedicated volunteers.
“We came together to help a family come into the country and start a new life,” she says. “We connect them to schools, we help them to find work, we offer transportation at the beginning until they can do it themselves.”
When Anur Abdella arrived from Sudan with his wife and three children in March 2020, Dunn and her team welcomed the family.
“You helped a lot,” says Abdella.
It’s a one-year commitment, but the bonds last much longer. Abdella says his family stayed close to the US volunteers who helped them start a new life. Now, he says, these volunteers have become his family too.