When he arrived in the airport in Buenos Aires, Eyad Jaabary breathed a sigh of relief and scanned the crowd for eyes that would land on him. It was an unquestionable ordeal to even arrive: he knew that he would not be able to leave his home country Syria that easily, as he was abstaining from mandatory military service and they would carry out thorough checks at its borders. He had to leave instead via Lebanon, but couldn't board his flight as he could not transit through Paris with a Syrian passport.
Thankfully, he already had somebody waiting for him in Argentina on the other side of the world. His community sponsor, Susana Gutierrez Barón, was waiting in Buenos Aires, and helped him in real time to re-book a flight via Rome, Italy so that Jaabary could safely arrive.
Today, Jaabary is one of the many refugee advocates for a community sponsorship system as a long term solution for refugees' resettlement in Argentina and beyond. He has experienced the benefits of this program himself; he knows that he is lucky to have had his paperwork sorted out within a week of arrival, and a much smoother and easier transition into Argentine society - with the help and emotional support of his community sponsors, Susana and her husband. Jaabary is part of Fundación Amal, which works to increase the number of resettled refugees exponentially through a community sponsorship program.
Community sponsorship has been implemented in Argentina since 2014 through the “Special Humanitarian Visa Program for foreigners affected by the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic”, commonly known as the “Syrian Program” (Provision 1025/2019).
Fundación Amal Argentina collaborates in the resettlement of families and refugees of Syrian nationality who have resettlement priority according to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and is the first non-Canadian organization to implement sponsorship programs with refugee population that identifies as LGBTIQ+.
Community sponsorship is an important program and option for refugees. Although Argentina has been working to allow access to resettlement and humanitarian visas for refugees in need of third country solutions, there is little information on access to other complementary pathways that are allowed by the National Migration Law 25.871. Also, refugees are in a position where they must fulfill administrative requirements to access education and labor visas. These range from having a valid travel document and proof of criminal records in their country of origin and residence to high consular costs ranging USD 500.
Fundación Amal Argentina believes that these complementary pathways make all the difference, and Jaabary is a key member in building these solutions through people, from the ground up. "We detect and train potential sponsorship groups, accompanying them throughout the process, as well as providing psychological assistance, support and advice to refugees to achieve their better integration," he explains.
"We firmly believe in community sponsorship as the best long-term solution for successful resettlement and integration of refugees. We work to promote, implement and strengthen the Community Sponsorship scheme, so that people in need of international protection can start a new life in our country. We advocate and promote the human rights of migrants and refugees with a focus on women, children, and LGBTIQ + community. We are founding members of the Argentine Network that Supports Community Sponsorship of Refugees," shares Jaabary with the Taking the Lead Network, where is also a member.
Fundación Amal Argentina has plans for the future - the organization plans to work with academic and private sector partners to develop a pilot for an education pathway that is based on the current Migration Law and engages with key actors like the UNHCR to work on the barriers that are currently in place and are faced by refugees that try to apply for an education visa to Argentina. Private sector companies are being engaged since the development of the pilot, to provide labor insertion opportunities to beneficiaries who graduate in Argentina and ensure that they have the possibility of settling permanently in Argentina, reducing secondary movements.
But perhaps most intangibly, community sponsorship provides a key opportunity to engage and win over residents and local populations in Argentina - most importantly, it provides for opportunities for refugees to develop relationships, create new friends, and understand the culture and society in Argentina.
Argentina is the first and so far the only country in Latin America to implement a community sponsorship program, and there is opportunity for this momentum to continue. Barón testifies to how changing the community sponsorship program also was for her: "When you want to help someone, you’ve got to think about what that person needs, not what you want to give. The Syrian community is different and living in a dictatorship can have a huge effect on people. I’ve grown a lot during this process and I’ve learnt to act without expecting anything in return."
"It’s important to work closely with the sponsorship team around you, to talk to them and share experiences. Community sponsorship offers possibilities to build a network and to establish a connection. But, for me, the most important connection is the human bond I’ve established with Eddy [Eyad] – nothing can match that," shared Barón.
Jaabary's story of his work at AMAL would not exist without resettlement. He has successfully gained independence through a program and model for community support. His specific experience and voice is key in shaping advocacy for refugees' and improving pathways for resettlement in Argentina and beyond.
Today, Jaabary is one of the many refugee leaders pro-actively building solutions and demanding policy change for better outcomes for refugees. At the Global Refugee Forum on December 13-16, 2023 in Geneva, refugees and refugee-led organizations will be making six major demands, and third-country solutions for resettlement is one of them.
Taking the Lead Network Demands for Third Country Solutions
Resettlement numbers need to increase across the board - they are currently at less than 1% of all refugees.
States cannot only rely on UNHCR to carry out needs assessments of refugees - but refugee-led organizations can carry out needs assessments, research for community sponsorship programs and help to increase resettlement numbers.
Balance between traditional pathways and resettlement based on refugees' needs.
There is a need for complementary pathways - not just based on needs, but also on skills, criteria or education/background.
Use complementary pathways as a lever to invest in education, skills development and livelihoods.