By Dr Tim Cox, who has received a doctorate in Applied Educational Psychology from Newcastle University. He has been working as part of the Tyne and Wear Citizens mental health action team.
Ever since I first became aware of Citizens UK in 2008 it has been abundantly clear that the organisation and its members are brought together in alliances around challenging social injustices and enabling communities to reorganise themselves in a fairer and more cohesive manner. When I think of the work of Citizens UK, Tony Benn’s conceptualisation of human progress relying on the flame of anger at injustice and the flame of hope, that things can be better, comes to mind. Citizens UK is in the business of fanning the flames of hope and anger at injustice and encouraging communities to take their place at the negotiation table. Over the last decade, community organising has proved a healthy antidote to the polarisation of British society and given me hope that there is a better future ahead.
On 17 March 2020, just days before Community Sponsorship groups were headed for the airport to welcome a refugee family, the IOM announced that due to COVID-19, resettlement flights would be suspended until further notice.
Seven months later, Community Sponsorship groups in the UK continue to sit in unbearable suspense - and the families they were ready to welcome left languishing in deeply precarious circumstances - as refugees board planes destined for France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and several other countries with little clarification on why the UK remains conspicuously absent from the list.
To break this silence and see resettlement numbers climb upwards again, we at Sponsor Refugees, alongside our colleagues at Reset, Charis, Refugee Action and many more, decided to take action. You can an overview of the action points below:
Here at Bath Welcomes Refugees, we’ve been offering English support for nearly 5 years. While we have certainly not got this down to a perfect art form, we have managed to build up a good cache of knowledge and resources along the way. We currently have over 60 volunteer teachers working 1-2-1 and providing group classes and we are eagerly awaiting our first Community sponsorship family. For what it’s worth, here is my advice.
When the pandemic led the IOM and UNHCR to announce a hold on resettlement flights globally, it left refugees languishing in a deeply unsafe situation. It simultaneously left Community Sponsorship groups in a limbo of juggling empty properties, redeploying resources and withstanding dwindling momentum. So after six months of silence from the government, groups decided to take action.
Below are the letter to Conservative MP Chris Philp signed by 36 group members and the response we received.
As the VPRS scheme comes to an in March 2021 with no current commitments to extend, we at Sponsor Refugees, along with Community Sponsorship groups across the country, are campaigning for the government to resettle 25.000 refugees by 2025.
You can find the letter we sent the MP here.
And the answer we received here.
UPDATE - 12/10/2020 : You can read our response to Chris Philp's letter here.
UPDATE - 03/12/2020 : You can read Chris Phil's response to our second letter here.
Abstract from "Rehoming Syrian refugees in Oxford – how to get involved"
Two years ago I arrived at Gatwick airport with my wife and baby son having fled the conflict in Syria.
We were met by our community sponsors who had volunteered to support my family as we rebuilt our lives in Oxford.
Their support has been life-changing for me and my family.
Just two years into our new lives here, we’re speaking English, working, and now supporting other vulnerable people in Oxford by delivering food parcels during the coronavirus lockdown.
From the moment we landed in the UK, our sponsors, who had met at Sunday mass in Blackfriars in central Oxford, became our community.
As well as practical support, they helped us feel welcome and at home: I always say that my children have six grandmothers because they have so many women doting on them!
Abstract from "A quiet act of welcome"
LAMBETH PALACE made the headlines in 2016 when a cottage in its grounds was offered to the first Syrian family coming to Britain under the Community Refugee Sponsorship scheme. The Archbishop of Canterbury described the scheme as “presenting churches and other civil-society groups with the opportunity to provide sanctuary to those fleeing war-torn places. Refugees, like all people, are treasured human beings, made in the image of God, who deserve safety, freedom, and the opportunity to flourish.”
“Where possible, the guiding principle has been to integrate the host community, first, by encouraging as many organisations as possible to become involved,” she says. “It’s been wonderful watching how a very diverse community has come together to welcome a stranger. It has transformed their outlook.”
Churches in the city have long been involved in this field, and liaise closely with Sponsor Refugees (which works with Citizens UK), and Reset UK, which provides the mandatory training that host groups undertake, as well as wrap-around support. Smethwick Church Action Network is hoping to welcome a family to Smethwick later this year, and is keen for this to be something that draws the community together and boosts social cohesion.
Mr Evans emphasises: “For anyone thinking about doing it, it isn’t a question of just ticking boxes and saying, ‘We’d like to do it.’ It’s a long process, but there’s so much guidance available, and so many groups that have done it before, that it’s an achievable goal for a church or other community.
Abstract from "Despite coronavirus setbacks Wanstead volunteers raise enough money to sponsor refugee family"
Refugee Welcome Wanstead (RWW) started raising money before coronavirus lockdown to take advantage of the Home Office’s Community Sponsorship Scheme, where a community group can help sponsor and support a refugee family.
“The majority of displaced people in the world already contend with underlying health conditions, malnutrition and poor sanitation, worsening the threat of the virus.”
“That’s why it’s more important than ever that we keep working to take a Syrian refugee family out of danger and welcome them into our community here in Wanstead.”
In September 2019, the Welcome Syrian Families group (WSF) in Hampstead welcomed a family of 4. Below a deeply heartening update on the family’s astounding commitment to life in North West London just before the lockdown was imposed.
Having arrived in London with no English, no friends and only a couple of suitcases between them, six months in, the family now seems well ensconced in Hampstead.
As Refugee Week (15th-21st June 2020) approaches, Reset, Charis and Sponsor Refugees are calling for new groups to ‘Welcome a Newcomer’ through Community Sponsorship.
The UN estimates that there are 1.4 million refugees needing resettlement across the world, and as a result of the global pandemic there is a growing backlog of refugees from the Syrian conflict who are languishing in refugee camps. The UK Government’s Community Sponsorship Scheme allows ordinary people to bring a refugee family to live in their community, and support them to integrate. Every time a group commits to Community Sponsorship, another vulnerable refugee family gets the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the UK.Read more
It has been a big week for Sponsor Refugees! The trustees of Citizens UK have this week published a review of our governance – and the good news is that Sponsor Refugees will remain a core project of Citizens UK. It is a massive vote of confidence in our work, and means we can get on with our exciting plans to grow the number of community sponsors in 2020.
On that note, congratulations to Croeso Butetown, West Hampstead Welcomes, Refugees Welcome Wolverton, Cotham and Redland Welcome, Southend Community Sponsorship Group and Chelmsford Community Sponsorship who have all hit important milestones this month. We’re hoping to use the Lockdown to build up a bank of sponsors who are ready to start resettlement as soon as the scheme is reopened – and we know that 1 Family Cardiff, Croeso Menai, Wendover Refugee Assistance Project, Waltham Forest Community Sponsor Partnership, and Love: Refugees in South West London are already poised for the Lockdown to lift.
The community sponsorship journey is always a story of how two remote paths converge, of dreams, aspirations, compassion and solidarity - and perhaps destiny - that culminate in lives intertwined, at least for a period. They often run from Syria, sometimes through Jordan or Turkey, to a town or city in the United Kingdom.
For Mohammad Alsamadi, the story trails from Syria to Cardiff, not just the capital of Wales but the birthplace of his biggest idol, Gareth Bale. After years spent in a Jordanian refugee camp with his immediate family, Mohammad arrived in 2019.Read more
When Community Sponsorship of refugees took off in Canada in 1978, it rested upon the philosophy that the collective journey of resettlement would foster vibrant communities of zestful diversity and crush the anti-migrant sentiments that had creeped up on many communities over the years. By pulling community members from the margins to the centre of the sponsorship project through fundraising and general information sharing, the sense of ownership and commitment would stifle any objections to outsiders in the neighbourhood.Read more
In the resettlement of a refugee family, education plays a key role in the children's integration process. For most, school is where we develop our deepest bonds and nurture our most precious friendships. Often, it’s where we come to understand who we are.
In more technical terms, we perfect the conjugations of this foreign language, explore culture through daily interactions and observations and absorb the curriculum that secures a prosperous future.
Below, Ellie Stacey shares her experience with education in resettling two refugee families in Cornwall.
In the small circle of civic society that is community sponsorship groups, there is a list of common denominators, of obstacles to be fought and wins to be celebrated. They include the forming of groups, the raising of funds, sending applications, securing housing, navigating benefits and a range of other tasks that are slowly but steadily being ticked off.
But in the months that follow the grand day of arrival at the airport where group efforts culminate, emotions peak and life seems to come together, reality knocks gently but firmly on the door and asks to be dealt with.
What presents itself on the other side is often much less tangible and more complex than the somewhat stringent steps required to obtain the Home Office’s approval and ultimately getting the family on the plane.Read more
In its very essence, community hinges on personal interactions to irrigate an ever-expanding web of social networks. We meet, talk, discuss, reflect and action so that eventually, we can change the world or at least strengthen our response to it.
In the past few weeks, the world has changed but abruptly so, without our consent, and altered not only the way we work but fundamentally changed the way we are together. However technically inept we may feel, virtual meeting rooms are now where we will get things done for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, we have witnessed an extraordinary effort from community groups to innovate and share resources, tips, tools and ideas to make life a little easier for the families they have sponsored.Read more