Community sponsorship programmes

Integration is better together

The objective of Community-based sponsorship programmes is to support the reception and integration of refugees. With engagement from citizens and local communities to provide financial, emotional and practical help to newly arrived refugees, the programmes add to government-assisted reception and integration activities, and is a way to develop positive and vital interaction between refugees and their new host communities.

The concept is also a way of supporting resettlement in a manner that strengthens and accelerates the reception and integration of UNHCR-referred refugees. Over time, this could potentially contribute to increased resettlement quotas.

UNHCR is in general advocating for more community-based sponsorship initiatives and is working to promote this with civil society and governments in countries like the Nordics.

What is community sponsorship?

The description covers different types of community-based and private sponsorship programmes that allow individuals, groups of individuals or organizations to come together to provide financial, emotional and practical support for the reception and integration of refugees who are admitted to their country.

Individuals or a community can form a group of “sponsors” or welcome guides/contact persons who are committed to jointly provide support to e.g. resettled refugees, assisting them to start their life in a new country, help adapt to a new culture and traditions, develop their language skills, assist with practical matters, offer networking opportunities to access employment, housing, etc. As a group they assume a time bound commitment with shared roles and responsibilities to contribute with personal experience, resources and contacts to support one or more resettled refugees or refugee families.

Community-based sponsorship programmes allow citizens and residents to directly engage in support of states’ refugee protection efforts and help to strengthen resettlement programmes and integration work. Over time, this could potentially also lead to a complimentary pathway and contribute to increase resettlement quotas. There is, however, no one-size-fits-all approach to community sponsorship, and different models may be appropriate in different contexts.

While sponsorship programmes have been a great success in Canada for decades, allowing more than 300,000 refugees to be welcomed to the country by private sponsors, most other programmes have been developed relatively recently in response to the Syria crisis and as commitments following the Global Compact on Refugees. Currently, many countries across Europe have piloted or even established community-based sponsorship programmes, including the UK, Spain, Germany and Nordic countries/Finland and Sweden.


Why community-based sponsorship?

Establishing a community-based sponsorship programme can bring much added value and resources to reception and integration efforts. Programmes can build on the already existing active civil society with more long-term, committed and coordinated support from communities and citizens, while the state and authorities still retain the ultimate responsibility for receiving and integrating refugees.

Community-based sponsorship can therefore be seen as:

• A stepping-stone to build sustainable resettlement programmes and allow more refugees to access protection and durable solutions;
• A tool to facilitate faster and better integration prospects through engagement of citizens;
• A tool to increase public support for refugees and promote social cohesion;
• A way to mobilize additional capacities and resources to undertake resettlement and integration of refugees in a more effective way through a shared responsibility between government, civil society and individuals for a defined period.

Integration is not something that can be learnt from a textbook, it requires personal interaction and face to face meetings between people in the context of real life. A Community sponsorship programme can embody these personal connections, and they can provide newly arrived refugees with a network, which is crucial when searching for jobs, for housing and for social inclusion.


Community-based sponsorship in the Nordic countries

Together with different partners, UNHCR is exploring possibilities for introducing and piloting a community-based sponsorship programme linked to the countries’ resettlement programs in all five Nordic countries.

So far, feasibility studies have been undertaken in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and one coming up in Norway, and the studies generally conclude that there is a potential for a community sponsorship model, taking into consideration the specifics of the Nordic countries as well as interest in the development of such a program among civil society actors, municipalities and government. The studies also confirm that community-based sponsorship is legally feasible in the Nordic countries as a tool for post-arrival reception and integration support for UNHCR-referred resettled 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.”

The words belong to Nola Leonard who took the first steps to initiate a community sponsorship programme for refugees in the small community of Dunshaughlin, north of Dublin in Ireland. 

In December 2018, the first refugee family — the Fakir family from Syria — arrived from Lebanon to the tiny, Irish town. Here, they were welcomed by Nola and many others from the community who have joined forces to help the family settle in and adjust to their new life.

The pilot programme in Dunshaughlin later led to the introduction of the government-supported Community Sponsorhip Programme in Ireland.

Read the story here.

Reports & other resources

UNHCR Complementary pathways for admission of refugees to third countries: Key considerations

The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI): Community Sponsorship of Refugees Guidebook and Planning Tools

More experiences with community sponsorship programmes

Devon, England

The Syrian Arnout family escaped the war and was welcomed to Devon in south-west England by the local community. The family is among the around 450 refugees who have been embraced by local community groups across the UK under the government’s community sponsorship programme which allows charities, faith groups, businesses and other local groups to directly support the reception and integration of refugees. Read the story.

Bilbao, Spain

Spanish volunteers in the Basque region have joined hands to help a refugee family from Syria start a new life. The community sponsorship programme is the first of its kind in Spain and has been established through collaboration between civil society groups, central and regional government as well as UNHCR. Read the story.

Cardigan, Wales

In 2018, Mohanad and his family arrived in Wales, after fleeing the war in Syria and living in harsh conditions in Lebanon. Croesco Teifi, a community sponsor group in Wales, made this possible. In 2020, the group welcomed a second Syrian family, Ahmed and his family, into the community. Read the story.