At present, sponsorship helps refugees from the Syrian conflict who are stuck in camps or cities in the Middle East. Sponsorship is not a way of supporting Syrian people who arrive in Britain seeking asylum or of relocating refugees who are stranded elsewhere in Europe. Also, the scheme is not open at the moment to refugees from other parts of the world.
Refugees from the Syrian conflict are mainly living in overburdened countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. If they feel they cannot return home or their current living conditions are too difficult, they can apply to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to be resettled to another country that can offer them a better chance of rebuilding their lives. After being interviewed and screened, they are referred to countries, including the UK, which have resettlement programmes. A small, but growing, number of refugees that come to the UK are resettled through community sponsorship. These refugee families are carefully matched with potential sponsoring groups to help ensure that the sponsorship is successful.
Refugees are selected and screened in the same way, and refugees coming through both routes are included in the governmentâ€™s pledge of resettling 23,000 Syrians by 2020. The difference comes in how refugees are supported and integrated when they arrive in the UK. Under the government scheme, the services are provided by local authorities and contracted professionals. Through the sponsorship route welcome and support is provided by faith and community groups.
Sponsored refugee families are not in addition to the resettlement number already pledged by the government. However, as sponsorship grows and proves successful the capacity of Britain to welcome more refugees in future will be increased.
At present, the UK does not operate a â€˜namingâ€™ system whereby refugees already in the UK can apply to bring in family members or friends through sponsorship. Any refugee from the Syrian conflict has to be selected for resettlement by the UNHCR before the UK will consider resettling them here, and that includes through sponsorship. So the choice of which refugees get to come to the UK through community sponsorship is made by the UN and the UK government not by sponsoring groups.
The first step is to gather a group together to discuss the idea. Community Sponsorship is voluntary and open to all groups. The group could come from within your mosque or church or community group. It could be formed for the purpose by you and your neighbour. It could be something you do with a group of work colleagues. Sponsoring is a serious, though very fulfilling, commitment and it needs to involve a number of dedicated people with the time, resources and skills to support a refugee family.
The first, and most important, is a strong, shared commitment to welcome refugees into your community and to help them to build a new life alongside you. But experience of supporting refugees or other vulnerable people is necessary too, though you could acquire that through partnering with other organisations or groups in your area.
On top of that, members of your group will each have to be able to commit several hours every week to the sponsorship process, probably for at least 18 months, including preparing and applying to be a sponsor and providing at least 12 months of active support of the refugees when they arrive. Sponsorship is a voluntary activity not a full or part-time job, but it is not something you can take on (or drop) lightly.
Yes, you need to show that you are a group that can properly take on a serious commitment to welcome and support a refugee family. That means you will either have to:
Often the biggest task is finding suitable accommodation for a refugee family. Sponsorship does not involve taking refugees into your own home, even for a short period. The government rightly insists that sponsored refugee families must have â€˜their own front doorâ€™. In other words, an independent house or flat that is in a decent condition, and has appropriate furnishings and amenities. It must also have a minimum two-year lease.
Given the shortage and high cost of housing in many parts of Britain, finding such a home for a family is a challenge. But it is one sponsoring groups have risen to, including in London, through ways such as linking to local housing associations, finding empty properties owned by their church or mosque, or by using their personal networks with private landlords.
The government stipulates that groups must set aside Â£4,500 per adult. So, if you were to sponsor a family with two parents your group would have to show that it had Â£9,000 in a bank account ringfenced solely for the purpose of the delivery of the community sponsorship scheme. Depending on the part of the country you were from, and the exact arrangements for sponsorship you enter into, you might need to raise more money than that. On the other hand, you could find that this money is not all spent. A lot depends on the needs and progress of the refugee family you sponsor.
No, refugees arriving under the Community Sponsorship scheme have many of the same rights and entitlements of British citizens. This means they can claim benefits, such as Job Seekers Allowance to support themselves as they search for work, and child benefit and child tax credits to help support their children. They can also claim Housing Benefit to help with their rent. This means that to a large extent, refugee families coming to Britain through Community Sponsorship have financial independence â€“ your role will be to provide back-up and additional support.
Unlike with the VPRS scheme, the local authority does not take on the lead responsibility for welcoming and supporting the refugee family. That is your job. But you need the council on your side.
It is obvious why, when you think about. For a start, they are the gateway to accessing many services in your area â€“ in particular, school places for the refugee children. Secondly, if anything went wrong with your sponsorship (thankfully, that rarely happens) the local authority would have to assume responsibility for the welfare of the refugee family. All this means that you should develop a good relationship with your local authority and will have to obtain their written consent for your group to sponsor a family.
There is no way around this: the answer is, yes. Fortunately, other groups have gone before you, and you can base your plans and applications on their work, while adapting them to your particular community. And you can call on our help at any time. You can contact us firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a call.
Itâ€™s a bit of a chore, but the bureaucracy of sponsorship is not a pointless red tape/tick box exercise. It is designed to ensure that groups who take on the serious commitment of welcoming and supporting a refugee family are fit and proper people, capable of taking on the task.
As you will be supporting adults who are often vulnerable, as well as children, it is important that their health and wellbeing is safeguarded and they are protected against any risk of harm or neglect. To ensure that, you will have to show that: