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About us

Sponsor Refugees is a project of Citizens UK - the home of Community Organising.

We support communities to welcome refugee families to the UK through the Community Sponsorship scheme.

What We do

We are building the Community Sponsorship movement in the UK – giving power to (not-so-) ordinary citizens to welcome refugees to their neighbourhoods.

What is community sponsorship?

Community Sponsorship gives you the power to bring a refugee family directly and safely to the UK and walk beside them as they rebuild their lives.

Our team

The Sponsor Refugees team works with community groups to navigate the sponsorship process and to support the refugee families they welcome.

Our History

Sponsor Refugees: The Citizens UK Foundation for the Sponsorship of Refugees was established in October 2017.

Citizens UK first called for the introduction of sponsorship of refugees, based on the Canadian model, at the height of the refugee crisis in September 2015. Only weeks later the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that the Home Office would look at the idea.

Citizens UK then became one of the leading civil society partners helping the government to design and produce the Community Sponsorship scheme. After the UK sponsorship scheme was launched in July 2016, Citizens UK through its network of Refugee Welcome groups and through Citizens UK local chapters, have been working to promote the scheme and to support pioneer groups to become sponsors.

The establishment of Sponsor Refugees in October 2017 allowed Citizens UK to increase this work.

Sponsor Refugees was launched at the East London Mosque on Monday 9th October 2017 with an event which brought together more than 200 people from across the UK. 10 Downing Street sent the following message of support:

"The Prime Minister believes community sponsorship presents communities with a great opportunity to help vulnerable refugees rebuild their lives in the UK, and the efforts of the NGO community and all parts of civil society to support the scheme are vital in ensuring its success.

The Prime Minister wishes to pass on her congratulations on the Foundation's launch."

Our Theory of Change

The problem:

Many refugees cannot go home because of continued conflict, wars and persecution. Many also live in perilous situations or have specific needs that cannot be addressed in the country where they have sought protection. Resettlement to a third country offers a durable solution.

The UN have identified over 20 million refugees of concern, but less than one percent of people in need are resettled each year.

The lack of safe routes pushes people to take extreme and life-threatening journeys across land and sea to seek sanctuary and a better future, with often devastating consequences.

Refugees who do reach the UK can face a multitude of barriers to inclusion and wellbeing, such as a lack of formal status, access to local services, social connections, language, unemployment, accommodation, poverty, racism, and mental health problems.

This is compounded by a polarised attitude towards refugees in Britain, where a large minority consider refugees and migrants as a “threat”.

The ONS has found that our sense of community is in decline. This can have negative outcomes for our personal and collective wellbeing, leads to less tolerant attitudes, increased loneliness, and a decline in democracy and the power of civil society.

There is a way to bring more refugees safely to the UK and give them the best of welcomes and integration support: the Community Sponsorship Scheme. But not enough people know this opportunity exists, or how to do it.

Unless we provide support and streamline the scheme, the process will remain too difficult and time-consuming for people to take part.

Our Inputs:

The Community Sponsorship Scheme provides a way for local communities to directly increase the number of refugees who can safely resettle to the UK, and walk beside them as they rebuild their lives.

Refugees are identified and prioritised by UNHCR as in urgent need for resettlement due to medical or other protection needs.

Sponsor Refugees support participation in the scheme by:

1.Promoting the Community Sponsorship scheme and encouraging communities to get involved

We do this through partnerships with civil society institutions, direct outreach, events, media and our Ambassadors scheme.

2. Supporting communities to welcome refugees through the scheme

We do this by acting as Lead Sponsor and providing bespoke support to groups; providing a toolkit of resources (such as our Portal); facilitating knowledge sharing through online trainings and networks; and our Mentors scheme.

3. Campaigning to protect and improve Community Sponsorship and other complimentary pathways

We do this by working with sector partners to innovate improvements to the scheme (for example, streamlining the application process); by campaigning to protect refugee resettlement; and by building strong cross-party political support for Community Sponsorship; supporting international efforts to implement the scheme in other countries; and by celebrating our collective achievements.

Our Outputs:

As of April 2021:

  1. Over 500 people have been resettled through Community Sponsorship to the UK since it’s launch in 2016.

2. Over 250 communities have welcomed or are preparing to welcome families through community sponsorship. Sponsor Refugees is providing direct support to over 100 of these groups.

3. Refugees arrive in the UK with their status assured and bespoke plans to help them integrate, and a embedded within a community

4. The government has committed to continuing the Community Sponsorship scheme and to work with the movement to improve and grow the scheme.

Our Impact:

To date, over 500 people have resettled through Community Sponsorship. From 2021, people resettled through this scheme will be additional to government resettlement, so we will be directly increasing the number of refugees welcomed to the UK.

Newcomers arrive with their status assured, a bespoke plan in place to support their integration, and community of people at their back.

An evaluation of Community Sponsorship in the UK concluded that, although resettled families still face significant challenges, “Having the ready source of social capital that is inherent to CS meant that refugees benefitted from individualised help which appeared to go some way in addressing challenges around language learning, navigating complex institutional cultures, building social networks, overcoming isolation and progressing towards self-sufficiency.”

Of course, the greatest evidence comes from the families themselves. See stories of our new neighbours here [link to stories of welcome]

“Now we have plans for our future”, says Lina, who now lives with her husband Fadi and their two children in leafy Sutton.

“It changed my whole life," says Khadija, who now lives in Devon with her family. Her husband is now working as an electrician, and Khadija completed GCSEs while raising 3 children, and is now teaching English to other migrant women.

In a survey of people who participated in Community sponsorship, people reported numerous gains from participation, including:

  • A sense of purpose and fulfillment
  • Pride and satisfaction
  • A new group of friends
  • A stronger sense of community

Research by the University of Birmingham has found that Community Sponsorship changes attitudes towards refugees, particularly in less-diverse host communities:

“Refugees were said to be an inspiration within schools, and local communities had become more outward looking as a result of their engagement with CSS. The advent of CSS in less diverse areas offers potential for transformation of understanding of refugee issues, to reduce fears about others, to change working practices to make them more inclusive for wider diverse populations and to bring new perspectives into relatively homogeneous communities”

You can read how refugee sponsorship increases support and reduces opposition to resettlement here.

And, by sharing positive stories of welcome, we are winning the fight to improve public narratives and support for refugees.

A survey of Community Sponsorship participants showed that the scheme has increased their awareness of the challenges faced by people with low levels of English in the UK, and of living on a low income. They also reported increased cultural awareness.