by Jean Silk, Coordinator for the Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement (JCARR)
On May 6, I joined more than 225 people from 19 countries participating in a Global Refugee Sponsorship Summit via Zoom, sponsored by the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI). For attendees in Geneva, it was late in the evening, while in New Zealand, it was the crack of dawn. There were differences in our time zones, our cultures and first languages; what we all had in common is passion for our work with refugee resettlement.
GRSI was launched in Ottawa, Canada, in December 2016. It works to assist and inspire countries around the world to open new pathways for refugee protection.
THE AIM IS TO:
- Increase and improve global refugee resettlement by engaging private citizens, communities and businesses in resettlement efforts
- Strengthen local host communities that come together to welcome newcomers
- Improve the narrative about refugees and other newcomers.
I have been personally involved with refugee resettlement since 2016 when I became the Coordinator of the Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement (JCARR) in New Haven, Connecticut. JCARR is one of about 50 community co-sponsors with the Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services (IRIS) in Connecticut. I was unaware of how extensive the co-sponsor model is internationally. The GRSI Summit offered an extraordinary opportunity to interact with my peers abroad. We heard stories from volunteers from Canada, England, Ireland, Wales, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and the United States as well as from professionals working with Amnesty International, Open Society, the UNHCR, the Canadian government and GRSI.
Gregory Maniatis of the Open Society spoke of the deep meaning that refugee sponsorship brings to our lives. On top of the crisis of displacement and of loneliness, we are now dealing with the new crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic is undermining institutions, highlighting conditions of inequality and demanding we change our habits. With this crisis, too, comes opportunity. As country after country closes its borders to immigrants, we are pioneers in creating new ways to deal with refugee protection. We are revolutionaries; we model how communities can turn concerns into action. We have demonstrated that communities can form partnerships and turn sad stories into success stories.
Bob Rae was Ontario’s 21st Premier from 1990 to 1995, and served as interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada from 2011 to 2013. Rae emphasized the role we play in breaking down stereotypes and increasing levels of understanding. “We share a planet,” he said. We must address people’s attitudes about “the other.”Gillian Triggs of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Geneva spoke of their gratitude to community co-sponsors. She summarized challenges and opportunities in refugee resettlement today.
Among the challenges, COVID-19 has shed a light on inequalities; it has increased levels of social and economic distress, domestic violence, child abuse, lack of healthcare, and unemployment (refugees are the first to lose their jobs). UNHCR has had to discontinue resettlement as 160 states have closed their borders.
The current crisis also presents opportunities for new starts, new beginnings and recreating solutions. Triggs said the community co-sponsorship program is vital. The post-COVID-19 world needs to be one of greater welcome. “We need to open our hearts and open our doors,” Triggs said. She quoted the UNHCR Secretary General, who says we need to, “Leave no one behind. we need to reach behind and bring them with us.” In conclusion, some volunteers say they are cautiously optimistic. With community co-sponsorship, we take bad news and turn it into good news. We value our peer-topeer relationships. We model “treating one another as you would wish to be treated,” Co-sponsorship helps society to grow. The benefits of welcoming refugees are reciprocal. Host communities are transformed. Indeed, we draw inspiration from each other.
Ultimately working together in refugee resettlement give us a feeling of hope.
Jean Silk can be reached at (203) 687-8808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.