For centuries, refugees have come to Britain seeking safety and a chance to rebuild their lives. In recent years, one of the most successful ways has been through resettlement.
Resettled refugees are brought over to the UK from camps or conflict zones with their status assured and with plans in place to welcome them and help them integrate. In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the government introduced the Vulnerable persons relocation scheme for Syrian nationals (VPRS) in 2014. The scheme was significantly expanded in September 2015 when the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged that Britain would take in 20,000 Syrians via the VPRS by 2020. (This was later expanded further to include another 3,000 places and widened to include people from other countries displaced by the Syrian conflict.)
Citizens UK took a lead in pressing the government to allow local groups to play a bigger role in resettling refugees. One idea being urged on ministers was sponsorship of refugees, through which community groups take on the responsibility of welcoming, supporting and settling refugee families. Canada was the main inspiration. Through its Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, Canada has resettled more than 300,000 refugees since 1979.
In October 2015, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced in her conference speech that the government would develop a community sponsorship scheme. A unique and powerful aspect of building the scheme was that civil society organisations, like Citizens UK, and pioneer sponsors worked closely with officials from the government’s resettlement team on its design and implementation.
In March 2016, the first ever parliamentary meeting was held to build interest in sponsorship and by July 2016, the scheme was officially launched at Lambeth Palace. Since then a number of sponsoring groups have resettled refugee families in the UK. Many others have been established and are working towards welcoming families.
Introducing a new route for refugee resettlement has taken time and a lot of hard work, but the potential of sponsorship to transform the lives of refugees while also transforming local communities is tremendous.