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US launches new programme to allow private sponsorship of refugees

Biden administration hoping to resettle 5,000 refugees in first year of new initiative
US President Joe Biden has vowed to rebuild the country's refugee system.
US President Joe Biden has vowed to rebuild the country's refugee system (AFP/File photo)

The US has announced a pilot programme for refugees that will allow private citizens and permanent residents to financially sponsor the resettlement of refugees fleeing conflict.

Under the programme, titled Welcome Corps and modelled after a system in Canada, groups of at least five Americans can sponsor refugees if they raise $2,275 per refugee, are able to pass background checks and submit a plan for how they will assist the individuals when they arrive in the US.

The initiative offers a shift in the country's refugee policy, as most refugees brought to the US have been resettled by nonprofit organisations that receive federal funding.

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For at least the first 90 days after a refugee's arrival, the private sponsors would play the role of traditional resettlement agencies, including helping with housing and other basic necessities, as well as assisting in obtaining education and public benefits they would qualify for.

In the first phase of the initiative, State Department officials will match sponsors with refugees overseas already approved to come to the US. By mid-2023, the department plans to allow prospective sponsors to identify refugees abroad whom they wish to assist.

The State Department said it hopes to recruit 10,000 private sponsors to resettle at least 5,000 refugees during the first year of the programme.

The announcement of the initiative comes as US President Joe Biden has vowed to rebuild the country's refugee system. The Biden administration has struggled to return refugee admissions to pre-Covid levels and meet his lofty resettlement goals. As a result, he has faced criticism from immigration advocacy groups.

Last year, the administration set a goal of admitting 125,000 refugees but only admitted 25,465 refugees. Biden again set a goal of welcoming up to 125,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2023, which started in July 2022. But so far, the US has resettled fewer than 7,000 refugees, according to State Department figures.

As Biden has struggled to follow through on his promise, the number of people displaced by violence around the globe has surpassed 100 million, more than at any other time in history, according to the UN.

The announcement also comes as the US is facing an immigration issue, with a mounting humanitarian and law enforcement crisis on the country's southern border with Mexico. In recent weeks, authorities have been turning back growing numbers of undocumented Cubans and Haitians attempting to enter the US by sea.

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