The Story of Community Sponsorship in the UK
For centuries, refugees have come to Britain seeking safety and a chance to rebuild their lives. In recent years, one of the most successful ways has been through resettlement.
Resettled refugees are brought over to this country from camps or conflict zones. They come with their status assured and with plans in place to welcome them and help them integrate.
2014: Britain Responds to the Syrian Refugee Crisis
In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the government introduced the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme for Syrian nationals (VPRS) in 2014. The scheme was significantly expanded in September 2015 when the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged that Britain would take in 20,000 Syrians via the VPRS by 2020 . (This was later expanded further to include another 3,000 places for vulnerable children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa region).
Citizens UK took a lead in pressing the government to allow local groups to play a bigger role in resettling refugees. One idea being urged on ministers was sponsorship of refugees , through which community groups take on the responsibility of welcoming, supporting and settling refugee families. Canada was the main inspiration. Through its Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, Canada has resettled more than 300,000 refugees since 1979.
2015: The First Families are Welcomed
In October 2015, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that the government would look into developing a refugee sponsorship scheme. A unique and powerful aspect of building the scheme was that civil society organisations, like Citizens UK, and pioneer sponsors worked closely with officials from the government’s resettlement team on its design and implementation.
In July 2016, the Community Sponsorship scheme was officially launched at Lambeth Palace, with the Archbishop of Canterbury welcoming a family to live in a house in the grounds of the palace. In November of that year, the first community group – in Flixton, East Manchester - welcomed a refugee family through the scheme, with more pioneer groups piloting the programme through 2017.
2017: The Launch of Sponsor Refugees
Sponsor Refugees was launched in October 2017 and has since worked in partnership with a number of other organisations to promote and support Community Sponsorship. Groups started across the country, with hot spots in the South West of England, South Wales and London. Pioneer groups in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Newcastle, Yorkshire, Leicestershire and the West Midlands were established or welcomed families.
2018 - 2019: The Story So Far
By the end of 2018, more than 200 refugee men, women and children had arrived in the UK through sponsorship and more than 140 groups had welcomed families or were in the pipeline to be sponsors.