Dr. Simone Bamba, pastor of Mission Maranatha in Boston, welcomes Ibrahim, a refugee from Somalia, to the church. The Welcome Corps program brought them together. Welcome Corps / Axie Breen

When Edwige* left Cameroon seeking refuge and political freedom, she resettled in the United States.

Now, through Welcome Corps, a U.S. Department of State program, she and six other members of Boston’s Mission Maranatha church have formed a private sponsor group that is helping Ibrahim*, a newly arrived refugee from Somalia adjust to life in the United States. 

“Because of my faith, I believe that we should share the love of Christ in practical ways, not just preach to people, but demonstrate the love of God by doing good deeds, by helping our neighbor,” Edwige says in a Welcome Corps story video interview.

A woman sits for her portrait photo in a park with a tree behind her.
Edwige, a former refugee herself, pays it forward by helping another refugee in Boston through Welcome Corps. Photo Courtesy: Welcome Corps / Axie Breen

Welcome Corps empowers everyday Americans to sponsor refugees. In groups of five or more adults, Americans form sponsor groups to help refugees build new lives in the United States. This involves greeting refugees at the airport, securing and preparing initial housing, enrolling children in school, helping adults secure jobs, and helping them settle into their new communities. 

A consortium of nonprofit organizations specializing in resettling refugees has partnered with the Department to implement the program and support sponsors. The consortium, led by the Community Sponsorship Hub, includes Church World Service, the International Rescue Committee, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), HIAS, and Welcome.US. Beyond the consortium, dozens of community organizations have signed up to serve as private sponsor organizations (PSOs), providing technical expertise and support to sponsor groups as they carry out core services for refugees once they arrive in the United States.

As a member of the consortium, IRIS provides support to sponsor groups throughout the application process. But IRIS also serves as a PSO, and in that role, they have supported the Mission Maranatha sponsor group with additional training, answering questions about local benefits for refugees, and how they can best deliver on their core responsibilities.

“We’re basically here to provide resources to help them through … any kind of little challenges that they might come across,” said IRIS Welcome Corps Coach Cindy Dunn.

Fleeing war and violence in Somalia, Ibrahim landed in South Africa. In 2013, he moved to a refugee camp and three years later, he was admitted into a resettlement program. After Welcome Corps launched in 2023, Ibrahim resettled in the United States, with help from a private sponsor group. 

Ibrahim, center, shares a moment with Ann O’Brien, director of sponsorship at IRIS, at left and Dr. Simone Bamba, pastor of Mission Maranatha church in Boston. Welcome Corps / Axie Breen
Ibrahim, center, shares a moment with Ann O’Brien, director of sponsorship at IRIS, at left and Dr. Simone Bamba, pastor of Mission Maranatha church in Boston. Photo Courtesy: Welcome Corps / Axie Breen

“Every time, I used to dream of coming to the U.S.,” he said in the video. “Today, my dream came true.” 

In the year since the State Department launched Welcome Corps, more than 15,000 American sponsors have applied to receive more than 7,000 refugees through Welcome Corps, exceeding the Department’s first year mobilization goal. 

Included in that milestone are more than 100 private sponsor groups from 32 states that have signed up to be matched with refugees they did not know from around the world. Under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, these refugees, from around the world, were already being considered for U.S. resettlement.

Welcome Corps is one of the ways the Department is expanding domestic resettlement capacity and reaching the Administration’s target of admitting up to 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2024. 

In the first year of the program, sponsors have welcomed nearly 100 refugees from various countries including Cuba, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Syria. They settled in several states, including Arizona, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Texas. 

Last summer, the program added the Welcome Corps on Campus program, which helps qualifying refugee students pursue higher education in the United States, while private sponsor groups within their new college or university forming to support them. Nineteen universities have applied to welcome 35 refugee students for the fall 2024 semester.

Welcome Corps recently expanded to let private sponsor groups refer refugees they know for consideration under the U.S. Refugee Admission Program. This marked the first time Americans have been allowed to refer specific refugees for resettlement. 

Willy Buhendwa Muhigirwa leads the Association for Congolese in Austin (ACA), a 12-member group that is supporting a Venezuelan refugee family, their way of giving back to a country that welcomed them. 

He pointed out that there are millions of refugees who have been displaced in many countries, including his own, due to war. They have no shelter, no water, no electricity, no food, no hope and are desperate.

“We thought this was a good opportunity to change other people’s lives,” he said. “Some of us came here as refugees and understand the advantage of being helped.” 

ACA is helping Ronald*, his wife, Yoliana*, and their baby daughter Romina*. They arrived in the United States about a week before Christmas in 2023, and the group has helped them secure housing and register for English classes, furnishing their apartment before they move in, and finding employment for them.

“We’ve had everything we’ve needed for living, for eating,” Ronald said. “[The sponsors have shown] care and attention dedicated to our child, that group is always looking after her and after our needs to be met at every point.”

*DipNote used first names to protect people’s privacy. 

About the Author:  Lenore T. Adkins is a public affairs specialist in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs and also produces The Week At State newsletter.

U.S. Department of State

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