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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

UK scheme allowing communities to sponsor refugees picks up after slow start

Events are being held across the country as part of Refugee Week to raise awareness of the scheme

UK Immigration Secretary Caroline Nokes said this week everyone can play a part in supporting refugees through the community refugee sponsorship scheme. Getty Images
UK Immigration Secretary Caroline Nokes said this week everyone can play a part in supporting refugees through the community refugee sponsorship scheme. Getty Images

The daughter of a Syrian couple who were sponsored by a church group in London to move to the UK in February is this week going into hospital for a life-saving treatment that would have been unthinkable months ago. Her mother, Manal Alabusi, said: “Praise to God, my daughter is getting medical help”. Elsewhere in Britain, community sponsorship is being promoted as part of Refugee Week. An event in Devon later this week will feature Hani Arnout, who, along with his wife and two children, was welcomed to the small town of Ottery St Mary as part of the community sponsorship scheme. “We are so grateful for a fresh start here in Devon”, Mr Arnout said. “We’ve been so warmly welcomed and supported at every turn. There are many challenges but we always have friends on hand to help. We have new help for the future.”

Two years after the British government launched a scheme allowing individuals and groups across the United Kingdom to offer housing and other support to refugees, the Home Office this week boosted the programme with a £1 million award to a civil society organisation. Reset, a new charity funded by the UK government and philanthropic foundations, is expected to use the donation to train and support communities who have taken in refugees under the community refugee sponsorship scheme.

The scheme has its origins in former prime minister David Cameron’s pledge in 2015 to resettle upwards of 20,000 refugees from Syria in the UK. At the time, celebrities and distinguished public figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the singer Bob Geldof, offered to open their homes to Syrian refugees. Such proposals was rejected as a “pie in the sky” by critics. But in a newspaper interview Richard Harrington, Mr Cameron’s minister for Syrian refugees, foresaw a future in which “every Syrian family that comes to the UK would have a British family that they would be loosely tied to … It might involve a welcome lunch and maybe eventually an offer of a job and things like that. It is a case of finding ways to use of people's good nature”.

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A similar model for the resettlement of refugees has existed in Canada for 40 years. The UK government launched its own community resettlement programme in 2016, with Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, housing a Syrian family in an empty property in the grounds of Lambeth Palace. The project allowed any organised to sponsor a refugee family, provided they supplied proof of experience of working with vulnerable people, evidence of suitable housing, permission from the local authority and £9,000 in funds to support the family. Amber Rudd, the then Home Secretary, said that the scheme created the “architecture for trying to channel people’s extraordinary goodwill” and would result in the “acceleration” of refugee intake.

By January of the following year, however, only two Syrian families had been resettled under its banner. That number has gone to 138 this year. Sponsor Refugees, one of the leading charitable organisations promoting the scheme, told The National that “interest in the community sponsorship scheme is growing in the UK”. It estimates that “there are more than 120 groups in the pipeline for application” from all parts of the UK. Tim Finch, director of Sponsor Refugees, said that sponsors “recognise that as well as transforming the lives of a refugee family, they will also transform their own lives through doing something so worthwhile and life affirming. I constantly meet people who have sponsored a refugee family through this scheme who say that it is one of the best things they have ever done in their life”.

Reset hopes to help facilitate the intake of more vulnerable families. “Working with our regional partners across the UK, we’ll be providing routes to get involved with sponsorship, resources and training for groups, organisations and individuals as we work together to offer practical solutions to the Syrian refugee crisis”, Reset’s director, Chris Clements, said in a statement.

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