How We Can Help Syrian Refugees Through Private Sponsorship

The plight of the Syrian refugees as they journey to safety in Europe is heartbreaking to most. Thousands of Syrians have drowned trying to make the journey. Meanwhile, European countries have thrown up border checkpoints that were torn down by the Schengen Agreement in 1995 to try and stem the tide of humanity.

But restoring border checkpoints doesn’t hide the fact that the world is facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of the Syrian Civil War. An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the war began in 2011. Conditions for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries have become grimmer as international aid has been cut. This is why Syrians are risking everything for a better life and a future in Europe.

Meanwhile, the United States has only accepted around 1,500 Syrians. This is not because the American government hates Muslims or Syrians; it’s a matter of cost. It costs the United States government nearly $16,000 per refugee to resettle them. When you start talking about resettling large numbers of people, the costs really begin to add up.

It is also time consuming. It normally takes up to two years for a refugee to be approved for entry to the United States once the United Nations has recommended them for resettlement. Those two years could be the difference between life and death. Or at the very least languishing in a squalid refugee camp or begging on a street corner in Amman or Beirut.

However, there is a way to resettle large numbers of refugees without leaving American taxpayers large bills and speeding up the processing times: private refugee sponsorship.

syria displacement

Source: The Economist

The way the program would work is that private charities and individuals can sponsor refugees for visas, without being subjected to any quotas, and would pay for the travel, security checks, and relocation assistance they need. In exchange for expedited entry, the privately sponsored refugees would be ineligible for welfare benefits and other refugee assistance programs the U.S. government offers.

Private refugee sponsorship is already in place in Canada. The majority of Syrian refugees taken in by the Canadian government this year have come in through that method.

The United States has experimented with private refugee sponsorship in the past. From 1987 to 1995, the State Department authorized the Private Sector Initiative to pay for the processing, travel, medical, and resettlement costs for Cuban refugees. In 1990, a State Department pilot program paid for the resettlement of Soviet Jews through two nonprofit organizations. Contrast the self-sufficiency of Soviet Jews and Cuban Americans to the Somali community in Minneapolis, which was resettled through traditional means.

We already have Americans who will step up and help. Radio talk show host and media entrepreneur Glenn Beck is one of them. He has asked his listeners and viewers to raise $10 million to help Syrian refugees. Beck has even threatened to smuggle Syrian Christians into the U.S. Instead of resorting to human smuggling, why shouldn’t Beck’s charity, Mercury One, be allowed to sponsor refugees for entry into the United States?

Private sponsorship of refugees offers a way to help them become self-sufficient, contribute to our nation’s economy, and learn to assimilate American culture. When there’s an opportunity to rescue people who have survived hell, shouldn’t we seize it? Shouldn’t we welcome these people to our shining city on a hill?

The answer is yes. However, we shouldn’t bankrupt ourselves and put our national security at risk doing so. Private refugee sponsorship provides the way to open our doors and hearts, while keeping America safe and not bankrupting our government.

Kevin Boyd is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter@kevinboyd1984.