UK pushes to deepen its community refugee scheme

A year after progamme's launch, Home Secretary offers £1 million at Lambeth Palace event to support groups sponsoring resettled refugees

Home Secretary Amber Rudd meets with Syrian family who were resettled in Lambeth Palace in 2016.  © Chris Clements

The British government is committed to deepening its year-old refugee community sponsorship scheme, promising extra funding for integration training and support at a roadshow this week to encourage more participation from local groups.

The plan enables community groups including charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to take a lead role supporting resettled refugees. It has had a modest start, with 53 refugees welcomed to date by 10 groups under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS) for Syrian refugees.

To encourage more local organisations to join, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced this week additional support; £1 million will be provided over two years to train groups signing up. The Home Office will invite bids from organisations with expertise to deliver the training.

“Integration is easier when there’s community support,” Ms. Rudd said Monday at an event at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London residence.

“Integration is easier when there’s community support”

The Government wanted to ensure that the programme was sufficiently robust before expanding it. It also stressed that families that have gone through traumatic experiences require special care and have complex needs.

“It is essential that the Home Office carefully assesses every sponsoring organisation,” Ms. Rudd added. “It’s essential that we make sure that potential sponsors have a credible plan, which is backed up by relevant experience, so that each and every family gets the best possible chance to rebuild their lives in the UK.”

Resettlement is a tangible response to those needing protection and a means of international burden-sharing in the face of the largest ever global displacement crisis. It offers the most vulnerable refugees an opportunity to restart their lives in safety and dignity.

But demand is enormous. For 2018, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates global resettlement needs are close to 1.2 million people. In 2016, UNHCR submissions of resettlement reached a 20-year high, with 125,800 refugees departing to rebuild their lives.

Britain’s VPRS aims to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020, by when the Government has also pledged to accept another 3,000 children and their families from the Middle East; the latter would also be eligible for inclusion in the community programme. UNHCR has asked the government to lift these numbers to at least 10,000 refugees a year.

“My hope for the future is that it’s going to considerably bigger,” Paul Morrison, Director of Resettlement, Asylum Support and Integration at the Home Office, said of the sponsorship programme. “We’ve taken the deliberate view that we don’t want to go too quick. We want it to work. We want it to be something that lasts for a long time.”

The Lambeth Palace event was also attended by a Canadian delegation headed by Ahmed D. Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. He said private groups had been “invaluable partners in helping to integrate new arrivals” in Canada.

"We want it to be something that lasts for a long time.”

Canada’s community sponsorship scheme started in 1979 in response to the exodus of so-called boat people from Vietnam following the IndoChina conflicts. To date, Canadian communities and citizens have sponsored almost 288,000 refugees. Recently, Canada has resettled 40,081 refugees under its Syrian resettlement initiative.

One rural town particularly engaged in the community programme is Brockville, Ontario, which has pledged to take 50 Syrians. Being involved has been “one of the most impactful moments that I have experienced,” the town’s mayor, David Henderson, told an earlier meeting in Kingston upon Thames. “My God, you come out of it with a good feeling.”

He stressed that given the town’s aging demographics, the newcomers had added vitality and diversity to the community, as well as professional skills. Over time, they more than pay their own way in new tax receipts, he said.

While resettlement is a life-changing experience, it can be extremely challenging. Refugees are often resettled to countries where the society, language and culture are completely new.

Those present at the meetings in Britain, who had been through the process of sponsoring refugees, stressed that the demands of sponsoring in the UK were not light.

Sponsoring requires an established network or group, with different expertise, to help with complex questions around housing, education, health and welfare benefits as well as offering emotional support. Finding suitable accommodation is especially tricky in Britain. The Syrians also require access to an Arabic speaker, at least initially. And as a starting point, sponsoring groups need to raise £4,500 per adult refugee.

Sponsor groups are matched with a refugee family and support them from their moment of arrival to self-sufficiency. Overall, approval can take six months, sometimes longer.

Alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the early sponsors in Britain was the Salvation Army. Major Nick Coke, their Refugee Coordinator, said his organisation had sponsored a family in Merton, London, and had drawn on wide networks including local churches, mosques and synagogues as well as individuals like home tutors, who lent time for free. “So many doors have opened in our community,” he said.

“So many doors have opened in our community”

For Major Coke, a recent high point was when the daughter of the refugee family had sung in a choir at the Royal Albert Hall; just months earlier, she had been scratching a living from a roundabout in Lebanon.

The roadshow, hosted by the Good Faith Partnership, Social Finance, the Home Office, Canada, churches, faith groups and civil organisations, is moving to Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Aberystwyth.       

Lambeth Palace was the first group to be approved to receive a Syrian family under the scheme. That family has already become part of the Palace’s fabric but will soon move to new accommodation. Family members joked with visitors this week, telling them that they hope their next home is also a palace.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassdor David Morrissey thanks local communities in the UK