Community sponsorship scheme for refugees
Baptists are being encouraged to participate in new Government initiatives to support people seeking refuge in the UK
The full community sponsorship scheme was launched last month by the Government alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, and will enable community groups to take on the role of supporting resettled refugees in the UK.
An online service that enables people to offer a range of help, from baby clothes to supported lodging, has been developed alongside.
The vision for community sponsorship has emerged as a key campaign for the National Refugee Welcome Board, of which our Baptist Union is an active member. There has been extensive consultation between the Board, which is convened by Citizens UK, and the Government.
Community sponsorship embraces two key realities:
That if re-settlement is to be successful, we need to do more than look to our statutory sector to cater for the material needs of refugees. We need to build communities of welcome where individuals can be supported, helped to integrate and existing communities can build bridges with those who need and seek refuge within them.
That provision for those in need is not simply something that communities can “outsource” to statutory agencies, but needs to be the active responsibility of every citizen. Our nation can do more, and can do some things more effectively when local citizens and community groups take on the task of welcoming and providing for those in need. Many of the resources needed, including housing, training and employment are in the hands of private citizens and can be mustered and co-ordinated through community action.
What does a community sponsor do?
Community sponsors will be allocated a family fleeing conflict. It will be their responsibility to support the resettled family from the moment of arrival in the UK. This will include:
meeting the family at the airport;
providing a warm welcome and cultural orientation;
supporting access to medical and social services;
English language tuition; and
support towards employment and self-sufficiency.
Their formal responsibility to support the resettled family will last for one year, with the exception of housing, for which the responsibility lasts for two years.
Baptist Regional Minister Phil Jump said local churches can clearly play ‘a significant role in this approach to refugee re-settlement’.
It offers the potential of more integrated and cohesive communities, more sustainable and holistic support for refugee families and is potentially more cost-effective for the tax-payer.
God’s vision of a just and wholesome society, as laid out in the law books of the Old Testament, includes the provision of places of refuge and living as communities of welcome to the alien and the stranger.
The successful campaign to introduce a sponsorship programme provides the opportunities for local churches to take a lead in developing communities that reflect something of this Biblical vision.
This was echoed by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who launched the scheme alongside the Home Secretary Amber Rudd in July.
The full community sponsorship scheme presents churches and other civil society groups with the opportunity to provide sanctuary to those fleeing war-torn places.
Refugees, like all people, are treasured human beings, made in the image of God, who deserve safety, freedom and the opportunity to flourish.
Amber Rudd described community sponsorship as 'a ground-breaking new development for resettlement in the UK'. She added, 'I wholeheartedly encourage organisations that can help to offer their support.’
The online service for donations provides a list of ways in which people can offer help, such as cultural activities, goods, housing, befriending and specialist services, such as language teaching and legal advice. The offers are logged and then shared with local authorities. Of this new service, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said:
This is an historic opportunity for individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugee families directly. By bringing together the voluntary sector and local and central government, we can better support those fleeing conflict to fully integrate into life in the UK.
Citizens UK said the scheme will only include a small number of sponsorships initially, but many groups have shown an interest. In time, it continued, the National Refugee Welcome Board believes that Community Sponsorship has the potential to become a significant pathway to refugee resettlement in the UK. In Canada, more than 250,000 refugees have been resettled through sponsorship in the last 25 years.
Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, Co-chair of the National Refugee Welcome Board said:
The launch of Community Sponsorship in the UK, which has been so successful in Canada, will help church groups to get involved in resettling refugees in their communities in a way which has previously been unavailable to them.
We are confident it will grow, leading to many more refugees from across the world’s trouble spots being able to resettle in the UK and build a safe, new life. There is a real public appetite for Community Sponsorship across the UK, and many people have already signed up to help.
A number of Baptist churches are already undertaking a significant ministries to people who have sought refuge in the UK. Mr Jump said, ‘While we must and should not act with ulterior motive, we might also note the positive and in some places transformative effect that refugee and migrant Christian believers are having in local churches. In recent weeks in NWBA, I have had the privilege of engaging with two churches where, in quite different circumstances, such stories are being told.’