A new U.S. government program launched Thursday. It gives American citizens opportunity to play a role in resettling thousands of refugees who arrive every year. The program is called the Welcome Corps.
During the first year of the Welcome Corps, the State Department aims to recruit 10,000 Americans. Those volunteers will help 5,000 refugees adjust to life in the United States.
“By tapping into the goodwill of American communities, the Welcome Corps will expand our country’s capacity to provide a warm welcome to higher numbers of refugees,” the department says.
When refugees arrive in the United States, they face a dramatically different way of life. The department traditionally works with nonprofit groups that specialize in refugee issues. Those nonprofits seek to ease the transition. Under the new program, five or more American citizens could form a group. That group would help fill this role as well.
These volunteers would apply to privately sponsor refugees to resettle in the United States. Each “welcome group” would raise money to help the refugees over the first 90 days. Welcome groups also help in other ways. Assistance includes everything from greeting refugees at the airport to finding them a place to live and getting kids enrolled in school.
A group of nonprofits with expertise in refugee resettlement will help oversee the program. Those experts will vet and certify applicants who want to be private sponsors. They also will train private sponsors to help refugees adjust to life in America.
The program rolls out in two phases. First, private sponsors will be matched with refugees already approved for resettlement. That starts during the first half of 2023.
Later, private sponsors could identify refugees abroad they would like to help. Sponsors then refer those individuals to the Refugee Assistance Program. The private sponsors would assist them once they arrive in the United States.
The Welcome Corps program comes on the heels of a similar, smaller scale endeavor. That program allowed Americans to sponsor Afghans or Ukrainians. (See A Call to Generous Hospitality.) It launched in October 2021. It has helped just over 800 people coming to America through a network of 230 sponsor circles. Those circles were made up of about 5,000 people. Those people are mostly regular American citizens with hearts to serve others.
Sasha Chanoff is founder and chief executive of Boston-based RefugePoint. That organization supports Afghan refugees. Chanoff says the sponsor program capitalizes on the huge amount of goodwill among Americans to help refugees. This goodwill crosses political divides.
“This represents perhaps a unique opportunity in our history—certainly in our recent history,” he says. “We’ve seen the incredible interest among the American public—Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, veterans, so many others across the political spectrum.”
The State Department summarizes the goal: “This program invites Americans to be partners and guides to refugees as they build new lives in the United States and help them realize their full potential. . . . By launching the Welcome Corps, we build on a proud tradition of providing refuge and demonstrate the spirit and generosity of the American people as we commit to welcoming refugees in need of our support.”
The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge! — Ruth 2:12
(Mohammad Walizada helps his little daughter with a bicycle. Walizada, his wife Miriam, and their family fled Afghanistan in August 2021. They settled in the United States with the help of a sponsorship program. AP)