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‘Send us a family’ church groups tell Home Office

20 November 2020

A Syrian refugee sits in the sun outside her tent at al-Fares camp in Bekaa valley, Lebanon, earlier this month.

A Syrian refugee sits in the sun outside her tent at al-Fares camp in Bekaa valley, Lebanon, earlier this month.

THE “community sponsorship” scheme for refugees has been waiting for the Government to act (News, 22 July 2016).

In Rugeley, in Staffordshire, a team that includes Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, raised tens of thousands of pounds, found Arabic translators, and was approved by the Home Office. But, when the group were just a few weeks away from being ready to welcome their refugee family, the Government shut down the scheme at the start of the first coronavirus lockdown.

Months later, Sir Peter and other church groups in a similar position are urging the authorities to change their minds and allow resettlement of refugees to begin again.

“We know there would be practical challenges around quarantine, but, on the other hand, compared to living in a refugee camp in somewhere like Lebanon it’s still going to be far preferable,” Sir Peter said. “This is a government scheme: we’re not a bunch of do-gooders setting it up ourselves. We have answered that call, and would like to be allowed to proceed.”

After several months with no clarity from the Home Office over when flights from the UN refugee camps could resume, enthusiasm, Sir Peter said, was flagging in Rugeley. “I have found it difficult to keep up people’s interest. As time goes on it is dispiriting. We were ready to go, and it is quite difficult to be in complete abeyance and unable to go forward.”

Eleanor Taylor, who is leading her parish’s community sponsorship project in Wanstead, in east London, said: “We are literally just waiting for them to resume flights, at which point we would be matched with a family. We are all ready to go. It’s so frustrating.”

Her team has already secured a property for their refugee family to live in, besides enlisting a GP, dentists, and schools. Her volunteers have prepared a guide to the area to help the family settle in.

The rhetoric used by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, in relation to asylum-seekers’ attempting unauthorised Channel crossings went against everything their project was about, Ms Taylor said, and made it much harder to secure community support.

“We have to spend a lot of time explaining that this is a safe and legal route that we really want to see reopened. People are coming directly from refugee camps in the Middle East: this is exactly the kind of immigration the Government committed to. We want to see those safe and legal routes back up and running.”

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