On October 2nd, at a ceremony in central London, Migrants Organise was given national recognition for our work to promote and facilitate community involvement in resettling refugees. We were nominated in The Champion of the Year category at the first-ever Community Sponsorship Awards, presented by Sponsor Refugees.
An initiative of Citizens UK, the ceremony paid tribute to local community groups who have come together to welcome a refugee family via the government’s Community Sponsorship scheme.
Launched by the Home Office in 2016, Community Sponsorship is an innovative approach to refugee resettlement, based on a well-established model that has been highly successful in Canada. It provides the opportunity for everyday people, volunteers, and community groups to unite and play a direct role in supporting the resettlement of refugees fleeing conflict and in need of protection. Up until recently, refugee resettlement has only been conducted by the state or local authorities; now, via Community Sponsorship, diverse groups can play a pivotal part in helping vulnerable refugees to rebuild their lives in the UK and create long-lasting bonds within communities.
Sponsorship groups have to work hard to meet the criteria set by the Home Office in order to support a refugee family to come to the UK. They must gain consent from their local authority; raise sufficient funds to support the family; identify suitable, affordable accommodation for them to live in; and develop a comprehensive resettlement plan that details how the community will support the resettled family. This includes everything from safeguarding and meeting the family at the airport, to introducing them to their local neighbourhood, arranging English language classes, and helping them register at schools and their local GP.
At Migrants Organise, we have been supporting a local Community Sponsorship group, known as the Welcome Committee, to navigate this process. As well as taking on legal responsibility for the resettlement, we have provided policies, training for volunteer groups planning to welcome a refugee family, and additional guidance on structure, approach and best practice. We have also promoted and advocated the scheme, encouraging people to come together, form a network, and take responsibility for helping refugees to adjust to life in their new home.
“We believe Community Sponsorship can have a huge impact, not only on the families that are resettled, but also on volunteers and communities,” says Ffion Wyn Evans, who leads our work on refugee resettlement. “We see it as a way of strengthening the networks of individuals and organisations who are resisting hostility towards refugees and supporting and shaping their communities.”
The Welcome Committee itself has taken on the responsibility of supporting a refugee family, working tirelessly to prepare for their arrival and to ensure that the Committee has the financial, logistical, administrative and emotional resources in place to help the family make a new life for themselves and, eventually, stand on their own two feet.
Khairunissa Dhala, one of the founding members of the Welcome Committee, has been instrumental in bringing this about. From making the initial decision to take practical action to help refugees, to getting other people involved, and coordinating fundraising, Khairunissa has been an incredible driving force. Soon, she and the Welcome Committee will welcome their first family – and also have additional plans to start sponsoring a second. “I hope that the support we can provide as a community group will mean these families can become self-sufficient, have better prospects, and more stability”, she says. “Community Sponsorship brings people together to do something positive in their community and teaches us all so much.”
Khairunissa’s hard work and dedication was rightfully recognised at the ceremony last night when she was recognised as joint winner of the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award category, for truly embodying the spirit of community sponsorship.
For more information about Community Sponsorship and how you can get involved, see our recent blog post or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch out for additional blogs soon detailing Khairunissa’s experiences welcoming refugees.