by Avila Kilmurray
“Unlocking community resources to support refugee re-settlement is magical”, said Tim Finch, CEO of Sponsor Refugees, a Citizens UK Foundation for Community Sponsorship of Refugees. Speaking in Belfast on Thursday 2nd November, 2017, Tim spoke about examples of where local groups have come together to sponsor the re-settlement of a refugee family in their community. He spoke about St. Monica’s group in Manchester that had taken the plunge and signed up to the new UK Government Community Sponsorship scheme. The Syrian family they sponsored is now living in the neighbourhood, the children playing soccer with the local youngsters.
So, what does it take beyond the commitment and a generous heart? A group of people need to come together and either constitute themselves as a charity, or sign an agreement with an existing charity to act as the ‘lead partner’. They need to raise £9,000 and secure accommodation for ‘their’ family. They need to go through the process of being vetted (in England and Wales this falls to Local Authorities – no-one seems to be quite sure where responsibility lies in Northern Ireland yet). They need to identify English language courses for the family when they arrive; and, of course, be prepared to greet them at the airport. Most of all they need to give the time and attention necessary to ensure that the refugee family is welcomed and cared for over the initial year and perhaps longer. The refugee families eligible for re-settlement are identified through the government processes and procedures currently in place.
‘People Just Work It Out’
Describing the growth of community sponsorship groups across England and Wales, Tim praised their flexibility and creativity. He spoke about the Pembrokeshire group that sourced a young Arabic-speaking asylum seeker who acted as a translator for their incoming family. He referred to the three different groups that are forming in Oxford to join the existing re-settlement initiatives in London, Worthing, Taunton, Fishguard and other areas. “Really”, he said, “99% of resettlement is about human beings doing nice things for other human beings”. These are families that just want to feel safe and to see their children grow up with a sense of hope and security. The first 12 refugee families have been settled under community sponsorship. Tim argued that the results are threefold: it transforms the lives of refugees that are resettled; it strengthens community bonds in the neighbourhoods that welcome them; and it creates a more positive narrative about the UK as an open country.
While praising the operation of the government’s Vulnerable Person’s Relocation scheme, Tim emphasised what engaged local people can bring. They can explain the system and culture of society. They are on hand to be caring and responsive in situations of need. They can open their networks and connections to the new families, making them feel part of the neighbourhood.
The concept of community sponsorship started in Canada, which, over a number of years, has adopted some 300,000 refugees under this programme. It is a politically attractive programme which has seen politicians line up to be photographed with the community sponsors and re-settled families. One area of disappointment in the UK is the refusal of the government to allow families provided for under community sponsorship to be counted as additional to the 23,000 person ceiling set for incoming refugees. However, if more people get involved in initiatives like community sponsorship there is still the hope that their active participation might translate into votes for more progressive political decision-making on this issue.
Home Office Minister, Amber Rudd, recently visited a family re-settled in North London with the support of a local community sponsorship group. It is reliably reported that the mother is an amazing cook and did all the catering for the launch event herself. Hopefully, in the process, she sweetened the Minister up to look on refugees as an asset rather than as a burden. The question in Northern Ireland is where are the official channels to allow interested and enthusiastic groups to take the next step in applying to sponsor a refugee family? Meanwhile, Tim is also contributing to discussions in Dublin where there is also interest in the initiative.
The information seminar was supported by The Social Change Initiative. For further information contact: