Community Sponsorship of Refugees is a new initiative in Britain. But interest in it is growing fast. It is a serious commitment to sponsor a refugee family and people rightly have lots of questions before they even think of setting off down this path. We won’t be able to answer all your detailed queries here. But we hope the answers below address some off the main questions you may have. On other sections of this site you can find more detailed information.
Below you will find answers to:
- Which refugees is community sponsorship helping?
- How are refugees chosen?
- What is the difference between community sponsorship and the existing government resettlement programme for Syrians?
- So the community sponsorship scheme is not adding to the numbers of refugees coming to the UK?
- Can a group choose the specific refugee/s they want to sponsor?
- What is the first step in sponsoring a refugee family?
- What are the main commitments of being a refugee sponsoring group?
- So do we need to be a formally constituted group?
- What is the biggest task for a refugee sponsoring group?
- How much money does it cost to sponsor a refugee family?
- Are sponsoring groups solely responsible for providing financial support to the refugee family?
- What is the role of the local authority in community sponsorship?
- Does becoming a refugee sponsoring group involve a lot of form filling and other stuff?
- Will members of our sponsoring groups be checked out?
- How do we ensure that we are doing all the right things to welcome and support a refugee family?
- What about learning English?
- When can refugees coming through community sponsorship work and what is the role of the sponsoring group?
- How long does the whole sponsoring process last?
- But sponsorship is mainly about respecting refugees and allowing them to stand on their own two feet?
- What can we expect to get out of sponsoring refugees?
Which refugees is community sponsorship helping?
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.
How are refugees chosen?
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.
What is the difference between community sponsorship and the existing government resettlement programme for Syrians?
Refugees are selected and screened in the same way, and refugees coming through both routes are included in the government’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.
Can a group choose the specific refugee/s they want to sponsor?
At present, the UK does not operate a ‘naming’ 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.
Checklist: refugees who can come to UK through Community Sponsorship
- Have fled the Syrian conflict
- Are living in countries near Syria, not in Europe or the UK
- Have been given formal refugee status and selected for resettlement by the UNHCR
- Have been accepted for resettlement by the UK government
- Are not chosen by sponsors (it is not a route to family reunification)
- Are included in the government pledge to resettle 23,000 Syrians by 2020
What is the first step in sponsoring a refugee family?
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.
What are the main commitments of being a refugee sponsoring group?
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. See Building A Group section HERE.
So do we need to be a formally constituted group?
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:
- Be an existing charitable organisation or community interest company (CIC)
- Partner with an existing charitable organisation in your area (Sponsor Refugees might be able to help with this, but other charities can also help - see Lead Sponsor section on PLAN page)
- Establish yourself as a new charity
For more details see Putting Your group On An Official Footing section here.
What is the biggest task for a refugee sponsoring group?
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 ‘their own front door’. 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.
More details in FIND A HOME FOR THE REFUGEE FAMILY section on Act page.
How much money does it cost to sponsor a refugee family?
The government stipulates that groups must set aside £4,500 per adult. So, if you were to sponsor a family with two parents your group would have to show that it had £9,000 in a bank account ringfenced solely for the purpose of sponsoring. 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.
More details in the fundraising plan section on the Plan page.
Are sponsoring groups solely responsible for providing financial support to the refugee family?
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 – your role will be to provide back-up and additional support.
What is the role of the local authority in community sponsorship?
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 – 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.
More details in the WINNING THE CONSENT OF YOUR LOCAL AUTHORITY section on the Act page.
Checklist: main commitments of sponsoring groups
- Open to any group
- Strong group with shared values and vision
- Motivation and experience to help refugees build a new life as neighbours in your community
- Being able to devote many hours over an 18-month period
- Be or become an established charitable organisation
- Able to find a suitable ‘home of their own’ for refugees for a minimum of two years
- Able to raise funds (probably at least £9,000)
- Gaining the consent of your local authority
Does becoming a refugee sponsoring group involve a lot of form filling and other stuff?
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.
It’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.
Will members of our sponsoring groups be checked out?
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:
- You have identified potential risks
- You have procedures in place to vet members of your group
- You have processes in place for training, reporting and data protection
All of this will have to be set out in a safeguarding policy. But again, you don’t have to start from scratch on this, you can adapt policies that other groups have already drawn up
More details in the DRAWING UP A SAFEGUARDING POLICY section on the Act page.
How do we ensure that we are doing all the right things to welcome and support a refugee family?
You will need to draw up what is called a ‘resettlement plan’. It sounds a bit a technical, but it isn’t really. In essence, it involves imagining all the things that a refugee family will need help with in order to settle into your community successfully, then writing down how you will achieve those things and assigning the tasks to the member of the group most capable of carrying them out. Some of the areas your plan will need to cover include:
- What you will do on the day of arrival and in the first week
- Who will be doing interpreting (you will need people attached to your group throughout the 12-month sponsorship period who speak both English and Arabic)
- Who can help the refugees to sign on with doctor, a dentist, register the children for school, etc
- Who will be helping with benefit assessments, access to training or find a job
- Who will lead on budgeting and record keeping
More details in the DRAWING UP A RESETTLEMENT PLAN section on the Act page.
What about learning English?
This is certainly one of the most important things you will need to help your refugee family with, for in most cases they will have only the most basic English before they get here. They will learn a lot quickly just through chatting with you and being out and about in your community. Organising informal conversation classes is a good idea. But of course, learning English well enough to settle successfully requires more than that.
So, sponsors have to provide formal English language tuition, by a suitably qualified ESOL teacher, for 8 hours a week within one month of refugee family’s arrival. This needs to continue for at least twelve months or until a refugee has reached what’s called Entry Level 3 (whichever is the sooner).
Obtaining English language qualifications will help refugees in finding work.
More details in the Learning English section on the Act page.
When can refugees coming through community sponsorship work and what is the role of the sponsoring group?
The adult refugees resettled in this way can work from Day 1. In reality of course, they will probably need a few weeks or even months to settle in, explore their options, pick up enough English and gain the confidence to work in a new country. It may be that a training course or adult education is a better option than rushing into the first job they can find. Your role is to help and guide the refugees, with assistance from professionals at the Job Centre and other places. You may also be able to use your personal contacts and local networks to find jobs, work experience or training opportunities.
Checklist: Essentials of sponsoring refugees
- Showing you are fit and proper people to support vulnerable adults and children
- Creating a detailed resettlement plan that shows how you will welcome and support the refugee family
- Providing interpreting services for 12 months
- Ensuring that the family learn English properly
- Helping them to access benefits as they look for work
- Helping the refugees to find work or training
How long does the whole sponsoring process last?
As a very general rule of thumb, you are likely to find you have to devote something like 18 months to preparing for and being a sponsoring group. There is a few months’ work to be done to form your group, draw up your plans and make an application. It can take a while for a suitable refugee family to be identified and flown to this country. And then you are committed to supporting the family for 12 months, though the level of support should gradually reduce as the family become more independent. After that 12 months, the formal sponsorship arrangement is over, but in many instances individuals maintain a relationship with the refugee family simply because friendships have developed.
But sponsorship is mainly about respecting refugees and allowing them to stand on their own two feet?
Yes, becoming a sponsor begins with a humanitarian impulse to help people in difficulty. But from the start, the partnership between the sponsoring group and the refugee family should be a respectful one between equals.
In the early weeks, the refugee family will probably need a lot of help as everything will be new and strange to them. But that doesn’t mean you are their servants, constantly at their beck and call. There should be boundaries.
And that works the other way: you need to give the family space, to allow them to work things out for themselves. The point is to help the family build a new, independent life in your community, not for them to be dependent on you.
What can we expect to get out of sponsoring refugees?
The better way to look at it, in the first instance, is what do the refugees get out of being sponsored? If you are a good sponsoring group they should get an excellent welcome and support package to help them build a new life in a new place that is delivered in a first class way but with an extra ingredient: great human warmth.
Resettlement offers the best chance to a refugee to rebuild their lives safely and securely, and community sponsorship is often the best form of resettlement. Where sponsorship has been operating for years, all the evidence shows that refugees who are sponsored achieve the best outcomes, whether it is finding suitable work quickly, learning a new language or integrating into their new community.
The main satisfaction for the sponsoring group is knowing all this. But those people who have experience of sponsoring also say it is an incredibly rewarding personal experience. It boosts self-esteem, increases well-being and develops skills. It also builds community spirit, both among the sponsoring group and their supporters, but wider too. Sponsoring communities are stronger communities.
Finally, by sponsoring a refugee family in your community you will be helping to build a culture of welcome for refugees and migrants more generally.
Checklist: The benefits of community sponsorship
- A great way to help refugees to achieve independence
- A creative, adaptable, respectful, personalised model
- Provides an incredibly rewarding personal experience for those who sponsor
- Helps to build community spirit
- Helps to foster a culture of welcome