TWO pilot sponsorships of Syrian refugees, in which one family moved into a garden cottage at Lambeth Palace last summer, are shortly to be followed by dozens more as the scheme gets under way.
Six months ago, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and the Archbishop of Canterbury launched the Full Community Sponsorship scheme, which allows community groups to directly sponsor a refugee family (News, 22 July 2016).
It is modelled on a similar initiative which has been running in Canada for 40 years and has led to thousands of families’ being welcomed and helped to integrate into communities by the communities themselves.
In the UK, so far, two families — one at Lambeth Palace, and one other — have come to Britain under the scheme. But community groups up and down the country, many of them faith-based, are organising themselves to sponsor a family.
The organisation Open Society Foundations, which supports the development of the scheme, said that it took time to put support systems in place to ensure that refugees were welcomed and integrated successfully, and that the slow start was no indicator of the enthusiasm of people in communities to take part. Its representatives met Home Office officials, NGOs, and dozens of community-sponsorship projects at an event in London last week.
Gregory Maniatis, a senior adviser to the Open Society International Migration Initiative, said: “Sponsorship is not only an important way to help refugees fleeing war, but it also creates an outlet for communities to express their compassion and to bring people together around a meaningful cause. It changes the lives of natives in a positive way nearly as much as those of newcomers.
“The UK’s sponsorship scheme launched with two pilot sponsorships, demonstrating the potential of this scheme to flourish once the proper infrastructure is in place. Experience from Canada, who has a 40-year head-start on the UK’s scheme, shows that thorough support systems must first be put in place if the scheme is to succeed.
“At a time when anti-migrant voices dominate politics, the enthusiasm we’re seeing for refugee sponsorship at the local level in the UK shows that there is another, much more positive side to the story. And we know from the Canadian experience that community sponsorship is the best way to integrate newcomers.”
Among the schemes being prepared by communities is that of a synagogue in south London, which is fund-raising to convert part of its building into a flat suitable to house a refugee family; and a project to sponsor two families in north Devon, inspired by the welcome given by the community to the young people from the Jungle camp in Calais, who were temporarily housed in the area last autumn.
Archbishop Welby has urged Christian groups to take up the scheme “to provide sanctuary to those fleeing war-torn places”.
More information about the Full Community Sponsorship Scheme is available at www.gov.uk.