Zrinka Bralo, chief executive of Migrants Organise, writes about the journey to becoming a community sponsor
Recently Migrants Organise received the exciting news that in partnership with a dedicated and passionate team of volunteers known as the Welcome Committee, they have been fully approved by the Home Office to become community sponsors.
Community Sponsorship is a new approach to refugee resettlement, based on a model already successful in Canada (where around 300,000 refugees have been resettled by local communities since 1979). It’s an opportunity for everyday people, volunteers, and community groups to come together to play the lead role in welcoming and supporting refugees to rebuild their lives and create long-lasting bonds.
At this stage, nothing is known about the family we will be meeting at the airport. We don’t know their names, age, their professions, their hobbies, passions and dreams, or who they were before war tore their lives apart.
But we do know it’s likely they came from Syria then living in a neighbouring country like Lebanon or Turkey. We know their journey to the UK will be tiring as they experience a whole range of emotions: excitement, relief, feeling overwhelmed, and worried.
They too, whilst waiting at the airport, will be nervous with excitement: What if London isn’t how they expected it to be? What if they don’t like the home Migrants Organise has found for them? What if they hate the weather? What if it’s harder than was imagined?
Several months of planning and problem solving will come to a head in one moment of human connection.
Powered by volunteers
For our community sponsorship application, Migrants Organise took on the legal responsibility for the resettlement process, providing policies (e.g. safeguarding, financial), volunteer training, and guidance on structure, approach and best practice. However, the real force behind this work has been powered by the Welcome Committee, a team of inspiring and unstoppable volunteers.
Abby Robinson, co-founding member of the Welcome Committee says, “Deciding to put together a community sponsorship group was easy. Given the erosion of refugee protection around the world, this was something tangible which we could do. Even though we are only assisting one family, it feels like this is the start of something that it is a building block towards more inclusive communities and an antidote to the hostile and isolating experience many refugees may experience when arriving in this country.”
“In just over a year, we have grown from what started out as a room full of strangers, into a wonderfully supportive community group full of creativity, passion and determination. The group has managed to exceed fundraising targets, has secured accommodation, pondered ethical dilemmas, learned new skills, and through learning about the journey that refugees face in London, has developed a new-found understanding of the challenges that our communities face as a whole.’’
One of the core benefits of community sponsorship is how it creates a strong network of allies, friends and neighbours to support newly arrived refugees who would otherwise be marginalised and isolated – from simple things like helping the family register with the GP and navigate public transport, to being a friendly face to chat with over a coffee. It is about having a community network invested in supporting them toward independence and to break down the loneliness and isolation often experienced by newly arrived refugees.
Last year, Samir and his family were welcomed to Greater Manchester by St Monica’s Church, in Flixton. Watch their story.
The journey for community sponsors begins several months before the family arrives and includes:
- Forming a strong team of dedicated volunteers
- Registering as a legal structure or partnering with a charity (who will act as lead sponsor, taking on legal responsibility)
- Raising at least £9000
- Finding appropriate accommodation for 2 years
- Getting the approval of the local authority and establishing connections to local service providers, schools, job centres, etc
- Writing a safeguarding policy and resettlement plan