What is Community Sponsorship?
Community Sponsorship is scheme introduced in 2016 by the Home Secretary to encourage community groups to sponsor a refugee family.
It gives power to local volunteer groups to resettle a refugee family in their neighbourhood. There are more than 150 Community Sponsorship groups across the UK.
Which refugees does Community Sponsorship help?
At present Community Sponsorship offers help to the following people:
Refugees from the Syrian conflict who are stuck in camps or cities in the Middle East. This includes people who have fled the Syrian conflict but do not have Syrian nationality.
It may include ‘at risk’ children and their families who have fled the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.
Sponsorship is not a way of supporting refugees who are seeking asylum or relocating refugees from other parts of Europe. Also, the scheme is not open to refugees from other parts of the world.
How are refugees chosen?
The UK government and UNHCR identify the most vulnerable people to be supported. These are people who cannot return to their region of origin; women and children ‘at risk’; people in severe need of medical care; survivors of torture and violence amongst others.
At present community sponsorship groups cannot ‘name’ families for resettlement. The choice of which refugees come to the UK through this scheme is made by the UNHCR and the UK Government. All Saints will have no influence over who is resettled.
What is the difference between community sponsorship and the existing government resettlement programme for Syrians?
The difference comes in how people are supported and integrated when they arrive in the UK. Under the government scheme the services are supported by the local authorities and contracted professionals. Through the sponsorship route welcome and support is provided by faith and community groups.
At present sponsored refugee families are not in addition to the resettlement number already pledged by our government.
Can a group choose the specific refugees they want to sponsor?
The choice of which refugees get to come to the UK through community sponsorship is made by the UN and the UK government not by the sponsoring groups.
What is the first step in sponsoring a refugee family?
The first step is to form a group. Bridge for Refugees is a group of about 20 members of the All Saints congregation. We believe we are a strong group with values and vision shared by many in the congregation and local community. As part of All Saints, Fulham, we are a registered charity.
How much money does it cost to sponsor a refugee family?
The Government stipulates that groups must set aside £4500 per adult so if we are to sponsor a family any group has to show that it had £9000 in a bank account, ring fenced solely for the purpose of sponsoring. We have already been able to set aside over £9000 through a previous Christmas collection, generous individual donations, and money committed to this project by the PCC. Successfully raising this money puts us in a fortunate and positive position.
What is the biggest task for a refugees sponsoring group?
Often the biggest task is finding suitable accommodation for a refugee family. Sponsorship does not involve taking a refugee into our home, even for a short period. The government rightly insists that sponsored refugee families must have their own front door. In other words an independent house or flat that is in a decent condition and has appropriate furnishings and amenities. It must have a minimum of a two year lease. Given the shortage and high cost of housing in many parts of Britain, finding a home for a family is a challenge. But sponsoring groups have risen to it, including in London, finding empty properties owned by a church or a mosque or by using their personal networks with landlords. The number of bedrooms in the house or flat will dictate the size of the family who will selected by the UNHCR and UK Government.
What is the role of the local authority in Community Sponsorship?
Our local authority does not take on the lead responsibility for welcoming and supporting the refugee family. This is our job. But we need to have Hammersmith and Fulham council on our side because they are the gateway to accessing many of the services in our area – in particular school places for refugee children. Secondly, if anything went wrong with our sponsorship (thankfully this rarely happens) the local authority would have to resume responsibility for the family’s welfare. All this means we need to develop a good relationship with Hammersmith and Fulham and we will have to obtain their written consent for Bridge for Refugees to sponsor a family.
Does becoming a refugee sponsoring group involve a lot of form filling?
Yes! Fortunately other groups have gone before us and we can base our plans and applications on their work, while adapting them to our community. Our group has members who are familiar with most of the paperwork necessary to settle our family. The bureaucracy of sponsorship is not a pointless red tape or box ticking exercise. It is designed to ensure that the groups who take on the serious commitment of welcoming and supporting a refugee family are fit and proper people, capable of taking on the task. Also, as we will be supporting adults who are vulnerable and children, it is important that their health and well-being is safeguarded and that they are protected against risk of harm or neglect. This will be set out in a safe guarding policy, adapted from other successful community sponsorship groups.
How to we ensure that we are doing all the right things to welcome and support a refugee family?
We will need to draw up what is called a ‘resettlement plan’. This involves imagining all the things that a refugee family will need help with in order to settle into our community successfully, then writing down how we will achieve these things and assigning the tasks to the members of the group most capable of carrying them out. This will include: what we do on the first day of arrival and in the first week; who will be doing the interpreting; who can help the refugees to sign on with the doctor, a dentist, register the children for school?
When can refugees coming to the UK through Community Sponsorship look for a job work and what is our role?
The adult refugees settled in this way can work from Day 1. In reality of course they will probably need a few weeks or even months to settle in, explore their options, pick up enough English and gain confidence to work in a new country. Our role is to be a help and a guide the refugees, with assistance with professionals at the job centre and other places. We will help them apply for benefits to support their settlement, including to pay their rent. We are also developing local relationships which will help them find work.
How long does the whole sponsoring process last?
As a general rule we are very likely to devote something like 18 months to preparing for and being a sponsorship group. We are committed to supporting the family for 12 months, though the level of support should gradually reduce as the family become more independent. After the 12 months the formal sponsorship arrangement is over, but in many instances individuals maintain a relationship with the refugee family simply because friendships have developed.