New York — Britain and Argentina are among a growing number of countries allowing ordinary citizens to pay for refugee care, lodging and other assistance, as global resettlement needs outstrip places available 13-fold, a Canadian-led initiative said.
Ireland, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates also plan to allow so-called private sponsorship, like Canada, where individuals and organisations can resettle refugees in addition to those brought in by the government, it said.
Canada, which adopted the policy four decades ago, is spearheading the new approach, along with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), under the year-old Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative.
"Integration happens faster and better when a community is involved," Gregory Maniatis, director of the Open Society Foundations International Migration Initiative, another member of the group, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.
Canada has embraced refugees under the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and is on track to have the most refugee claims in more than a decade.
Private sponsors have resettled 300,000 refugees in Canada since 1979 when private sponsorship was introduced.
The U.N. hopes the new approach will significantly increase the options available for 1.2 million refugees seeking resettlement globally. Places are only available for one in 13 people, UNHCR says.
Many people are keen to give their time and money to help refugees, Maniatis said, pointing to the compassion expressed during Europe's migration crisis.
Under the programme, individuals, businesses and communities provide financial and emotional support to newly arrived refugees, and help with immigration and residency processes.
Canadian sponsorships typically last 12 months or until the refugee becomes self-sufficient.
The gap between needs and places is widening, UNHCR says. It submitted more than 162,500 refugees for resettlement in 2016 - the highest number in 20 years. Almost half were Syrians.
More than 125,800 refugees started new lives in third countries last year, with almost 40 states accepting refugees for resettlement.
Canadian government data shows that refugees integrate well. The children of refugees and other newcomers are more likely to complete high school and university than locals.
Privately sponsored refugees, after 20 years, earn more than Canada's average income, according to government statistics.
Sponsorship can also re-build a lost sense of togetherness in communities where refugees settle, Maniatis said.
"They bring neighbours into a common mission with each other," he said.
In addition to the five states committing to adopt private sponsorship over the last year, almost 15 others have expressed an interest, the Global Refugees Sponsorship Initiative said.
Reporting by Ruairi Casey, Editing by Katy Migiro.