The United Nations Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) estimates that in 2019 1.4 million people will need to be resettled. This is an 18% increase from 2018 figures. A large proportion of the asylum seekers have been displaced from their homes as a result of ongoing conflict with 42% being from Syria. These figures highlight a global responsibility to help those who are seeking safety in other countries. Unfortunately, alongside the growing number of refugees, the negative attitudes towards them have also grown. According to Pew Research Center there has been public concern that Muslims are unwilling to integrate into society and taking in more refugees would increase the chance of terrorist attacks. This is reflected in the United States statistics in which only 22,491 refugees were admitted in their 2018 financial year, the lowest figures since 1977. Furthermore, according to CNN that is only half of the number of people admitted in 2017. And yet this figure is still more than many other western countries like Canada, Australia and the UK. Despite the growing demand, governments have been reluctant to increase their refugee quotas due to the growing public concerns. As the gap between those seeking refugee status and the number of people actually being resettled widens hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers remain in limbo living in UN refugee camps set up in neighbouring countries.
According to Al Jazeera, in the beginning of January, as winter has approached the Northern Hemisphere, more than 570 informal settlements in Lebanon have either been entirely destroyed or flooded due to heavy snow and rain fall. These already desolate living conditions have been aggravated by the extreme weather conditions. This goes to show that camps are merely a provisional solution and as the fighting in Syria continues with no hope for peace we cannot expect asylum seekers to live in the camps for another year. Moreover, conflicts like the one in Syria have put a lot of pressure on its neighbouring countries like Turkey and Lebanon who have taken on more displaced people than any other country despite their size and resources.
Developed countries need to take on more responsibility in responding to the refugee demand. This was the clear intention of the Convention for Refugees which was established in 1951. At that time there was a large number of asylum seekers as a result of World War II. They flooded into nearby countries so it was agreed that an international plan was needed to address the issue. Over 144 members have signed the convention all agreeing that this was a humanitarian issues which needed a global response. Subsequently, this allowed many Europeans to resettle in other nations like the US after the war. However, it appears that the sentiment of those who signed the Convention are no longer reflected by many of today’s governments. The international community needs to establish new legal pathways for refugees to reach developed countries – one such pathway is the private sponsorship programme.
On the 19 of September 2016 the United Nations General Assembly gathered to pass the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. This declaration focuses on improving the global response to large refugee movements. Within the declaration it also sets out a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework which among other strategies promotes the expansion of private sponsorship programmes for refugees. The programme was first established by Canada in 1978. It allowed private organizations like community and religious groups or businesses to financially sponsor refugees to resettle into their neighbourhood. Since Canada’s adoption of the policy they have helped resettle 200,000 refugees. In Canada the initiative has had a lot of success and it has also motivated countries like the UK, Australia, and New Zealand to begin similar trials. In a study conducted when the policy was first implemented in Canada, it showed that that the programme had huge benefits to refugees’ social capital. By being sponsored by private peoples, refugees were already welcomed into a community meaning they had better social support in addition to financial benefits. The study found that privately sponsored refugees were more able to find jobs similar to what they had before compared to those who had been sponsored by the government. This is because although both groups did use the government programme to find work, communities were better able to understand the backgrounds of refugees and leverage their own connections to help them.
The social benefit of this policy has been subsequently evidenced again and again in various other studies. However, it is important to remember that the private sponsorship programme is merely complimentary to government efforts. There are still government responsibilities of processing applications, selecting sponsored people and providing safety-net provisions for them. The important factor is that it harnesses the support and financial capacities of citizens and splits responsibility between private groups and the government. In a University of Alberta study it found that there are still significant improvements to be made suggesting that there should be more support from the government in accessing language classes and finding employments rather than leaving that up to private sponsors and researchers also recommended that religious institutions should provide more cultural services.
Ultimately, according to the European Resettlement Network the main intention for private sponsored refugee programmes is to provide realistic, legal and safer alternatives for refugees, deterring them from embarking on dangerous journeys to access safety and protection. Moreover, as long as there are people who, despite popular opinion, care enough to help, having the programme will provide a means to directly contribute and provide humanitarian aid. The international community are heading in the right direction by pushing and promoting this programme, through time and experience we hope that the policy will become more refined and adequately meet the needs of refugees.