A GROUP of churches in Worthing has been given the go-ahead to welcome a Syrian family under the community sponsorship scheme.
The Worthing 4 Refugees group, which is made up of five churches in the town, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist, and independent, first formed to look at how they could respond to the refugee crisis 18 months ago.
Phil Papps, of Maybridge Community Church and a trustee of Worthing 4 Refugees, said that getting approval from the Home Office for their plan had been “a lot of work”, but there was great support and enthusiasm in the town for the sponsorship.
“It all grew out of the media coverage of the plight of refugees, and, as Christians, knowing Jesus was a refugee. We were all asking the question what could we do to make a difference — and once we knew these conversations were going on in churches across the town, we all came together to plan our response.”
The group is now a registered charity.
Mr Papps said: “We have a structure to ensure we can sustain the good will for the long term. We are taking it step by step, and hope we may be able to sponsor more families, but the biggest challenge for us in the south-east is the availability of accommodation.”
For this first family, someone outside the group came forward and offered housing. The family is expected to arrive within weeks, and support — including support from the relevant faith group — is ready and waiting, as are agencies such as the local education authority, with whom the group has worked closely to ensure that there are school places for any children.
The leader of West Sussex County Council, Louise Goldsmith, said: “We are delighted to see this competent and capable group be successful in its bid to host a Syrian refugee family in West Sussex. We supported the Home Office with their assessment, and will continue working with Worthing 4 Refugees as they welcome the family to our wonderful county.
“We have already welcomed eight Syrian refugee families, and are shortly expecting another two in West Sussex. I have had the honour of meeting several of them, who speak very highly of the support they have been given by the community after they have overcome such devastating experiences. The community has really stepped up to the plate, including Worthing 4 Refugees, and for that we are very grateful.”
The charity Church Response for Refugees supports churches and local groups coming together to apply for community sponsorship. Its executive director, Tania Bright, said: “Worthing 4 Refugees is the first group that Church Response for Refugees helped to establish. This marks the start of an incredible journey for Worthing 4 Refugees and the Syrian refugees they will be welcoming.”
She said that the charity was currently working with 28 other Christian community groups around the UK to help them become community sponsors.
The community sponsorship model is based on a Canadian scheme that has been running for nearly 40 years and has led to the resettlement of nearly 300,000 refugees.
So far in the UK, just a handful of families have been resettled under the community sponsorship scheme, the first in the grounds of Lambeth Palace at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 22 July 2016).