In line with the multi-stakeholder and whole-of-society approach required to achieve the goals of the Global Compact on Refugees, community sponsorship is a tangible and genuinely rewarding way for people, local organisations and communities to support the reception and integration of refugees.
By providing hands-on support to newly arrived refugees, citizens and communities can make an actual difference and help them build their life in a new home.
What is community sponsorship?
Community sponsorship refers to programmes where individuals or groups come together to provide financial, emotional and practical support toward reception and integration of refugees that have already been admitted in their country through resettlement after a referral by UNHCR or through a complementary pathway such as education or labour mobility opportunities.
While sponsorship programmes have been a great success in Canada for decades, allowing more than 300,000 refugees to be welcomed to the country, most other programmes have been developed relatively recently in response to the Syria crisis and as commitments following the Global Compact on Refugees. At the first Global Refugee Forum held in December 2019, Brazil, Belgium, Malta and Portugal pledged to explore pilot community sponsorship models. As a part of the new 2020 Pact on Asylum and Migration, the European Commission has committed to supporting national community sponsorship schemes through funding, capacity building and knowledge-sharing, in cooperation with civil society, to develop a European model of community sponsorship.
Currently, many countries globally have piloted or established community-based sponsorship programmes, including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Spain and Germany.
What is the role of the sponsors?
In community sponsorship, individuals or a community can form a group of “sponsors” and commit to jointly support refugees to build their life in their country by helping them adapt to the local culture and traditions, providing language assistance and logistical support, giving advice on practical issues and offering networking opportunities.
The sponsors are not involved in selecting and admitting the beneficiaries, and their role begins once the sponsored person has arrived in their country. As a group, they assume a time-bound responsibility and commit to offering their personal experience, resources and contacts to support the newly arrived refugees.
Why community sponsorship?
Community sponsorship can bring much-added value and benefit both refugees and local communities. In particular, it can:
- Help build the capacity of resettlement countries and allow more refugees to access protection and durable solutions: Community sponsorship programmes can help establish or expand resettlement programmes in new countries which would otherwise not have been possible due to a lack of infrastructure and settlement services.
- Improve integration prospects: Evidence suggests that community sponsorship is likely to enhance the integration prospects of refugees. Local communities offer integration advice, informal orientation, language assistance and support to newly arrived refugees.
- Build welcoming and inclusive communities: Community sponsorship programmes can promote mutual understanding, respect and tolerance and help build welcoming communities according to Goal 3 of the Three-year Strategy. In the long-term, such programmes can increase support for refugees and contribute to changing anti-refugee narratives portraying them as a burden or a threat. They also allow refugees to demonstrate their skills and abilities and give back to their communities.
- Provide a rewarding experience to individuals and communities: Community sponsorship programmes are a win-win situation. For sponsors, these programmes can be a truly rewarding experience offering them a unique opportunity to transform the lives of people forced to flee and actively contribute to addressing growing humanitarian needs. And all that, while supporting their community well-being and forming strong bonds with refugees.
Community sponsorship and private sponsorship
Even though community sponsorship and private sponsorship both involve the engagement of local communities for the reception and integration of refugees, they are by nature different and must be clearly distinguished.
Private sponsorship pathways facilitate the admission of refugees to a new country. In private sponsorship, sponsors play a key role throughout the process; they identify and select the beneficiaries and are directly involved in their admission, reception, and integration. Also, unlike traditional resettlement, private sponsorship pathways allow sponsors to nominate individuals based on other considerations such as family links, skills, professional or educational background, among others.
Conversely, in community sponsorship, the sponsoring individuals, organisations and/or communities support the reception and integration of persons who have already entered a country through a referral by UNHCR or through a different pathway such as an education or employment opportunity. The sponsored person is selected and admitted independently from the sponsor in community sponsorship. The role of the sponsor only begins after the arrival of the sponsorship beneficiary in the country.
The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative
The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative is a multi-stakeholder multi-sectoral partnership model that has successfully built capacity and promoted community-based sponsorship of refugees.
Led by the Government of Canada, UNHCR, the Open Society Foundations, the Giustra Foundation, the Shapiro Foundation and the University of Ottawa, this joint initiative aims to increase and improve global refugee resettlement by engaging private citizens, communities, and businesses in resettlement efforts, strengthen local host communities that come together to welcome newcomers and improve the narrative about refugees.
Learn more about Community-Based Sponsorship Programmes from UNHCR’s partner: the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative.
"I think it's probably one of the best things that I've ever done."
Nola Leonard took the first steps to initiate a community sponsorship programme for refugees in the small community of Dunshaughlin, north of Dublin, Ireland. In December 2018, Nola and many other community members welcomes the first refugee family, the Fakir family from Syria and joined forces to help them adjust to their new life. Learn more about their story.
"It's not like you do something all the time, you receive a lot in return".
NesT (Neustart im Team) allows mentoring groups to accompany refugees in the initial state of arrival in Germany by providing them with housing and other forms of support. Learn more about NesT.
Further resources and links
- UNHCR's Integration Handbook for Resettled Refugees
- The Impact of Government-Sponsored Refugee Resettlement: A Meta Study of Findings from Six Countries
- The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI): Community Sponsorship of Refugees Guidebook and Planning Tools
- Irish Community Sponsorship Programme
- UK Community Sponsorship Scheme
- Australia Community Sponsorship Scheme