What We Should Learn From Canada's Refugee Program?

Flag of Canada
Flag of Canada

Last week, the New York Times ran a front-page story on Canada's private refugee sponsorship program--in which Canadian citizens and community groups essentially adopt refugees and welcome them into their lives.

The energy and support from the Canadian private sector alone has resulted in more than 10,200 Syrians coming to Canada this year--about double the U.S. total. Thanks to a combination of government and private funding, more than 28,000 Syrians now call Canada home.

The Canadian model is one of the best current examples of humanitarianism, during a time of unprecedented displacement of people worldwide.

The NYT piece tracks the stories of both sponsors and refugees and their experience in the last year. It's detailed and heartbreaking, as it paints a vivid picture of the moments of joy and hardship in resettling in a different country.

It's truly a must-read, as it helps understand the Canadian refugee system which is so starkly different from the U.S. approach to the crisis.

Moreover, the article provides a blueprint for how enhanced private sector engagement can improve a nation's refugee resettlement system.

The Niskanen Center has been pointing to the Canadian model as something to learn from since 2015. We were delighted to be included in an accompaniment for the piece which asks, "who else can sponsor a refugee?". As the Washington Post Magazine reported earlier this year, we have been aggressively advocating in favor of a privately funded refugee category to increase humanitarian admissions.

American advocates for refugee resettlement should keep their eyes up north, and draw lessons for how to further infuse private sector actors in the refugee system.

The Canadian private sponsorship operation features more than 9,000 groups that have raised necessary funding and and ready to resettle Syrian refugees. John Sewell, the former mayor of Toronto and advocate for private sponsorship, has estimated more than $200 million has been deposited into charitable accounts to aid resettlement in the last year.

This is all in a country that has one-tenth the population of the United States. The Toronto Star humorously calls the Canadians who want to resettle Syrians an "angry mob of do-gooders."

While Canada is clearly the global leader when it comes to private resettlement, other nations have adopted similar programs. Ireland and Italy have recently taken steps forward to increase their private programs, something I originally reported on in an op-ed for USA Today earlier this year.

America is far behind the global trend towards private resettlement. Not tapping into the energy of the private sector is inherently restrictive at a time when the global community needs to do a far better job in aiding families on the run.

U.S. lawmakers should pursue mechanisms to leverage private sector financial contributions and engagement more robustly than they currently do. The Niskanen Center has suggested that the State Department launch a new refugee category that Americans can donate to which would increase resettlement totals.

President Obama recently said, "We are urging our nongovernmental partners, including the private sector, to do more as well" to help alleviate the suffering from the refugee crisis. We should learn from our friends up north on how to craft private sponsorship programs to do just that.

When it's a matter of life and death for millions, not utilizing all possible avenues for salvation is irresponsible. It's time the United States takes a page from Canada's book by creating platforms for the American people to contribute towards saving the lives of refugees.