Supporting Refugees in the UK - Part 3

Supporting Refugees in the UK - Part 3

This series has so far been about helping refugees who come to the UK under their own steam.  Today Andy Vivian reports on the Government’s official Syrian refugee resettlement programme and how this opens a new avenue for volunteer involvement - as sponsors of incoming refugees.

You may have read about the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.  This is the programme, initiated by David Cameron, to take 20,000 refugees by 2020, direct from refugee camps in the war torn region…

Unlike other asylum seekers, once nominated for resettlement, these families are automatically given refugee status in the UK.   As with all refugees the government aims to disperse them around the country.  Local councils usually play a key role.  They decide how many refugees they will accept.  Not all councils have the necessary staff and expertise to support refugees, so they will usually contract voluntary sector charities to

  • meet the new refugees

  • find them housing
  • furnishing and equipping their homes
  • teach them basic English
  • guide them through all the form filling
  • prepare them for employment
  • provide opportunities for integration with their local community. 

I tried to suggest in yesterday’s article how you might get in touch with your local council and refugee charities in order to offer help them to complete these tasks.  You may have a house or flat that you are prepared to let, you may have furniture you no longer need, you may be able to help staff a drop in-café or drive a van.

But the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme offers a completely new avenue for volunteer involvement.  Groups of citizens can get together to sponsor the resettlement of a refugee or refugee family.  In other words they can take over full responsibility for completing all the tasks listed above.  No longer will the council have to agree to take these refugees, it would be up to the sponsors to make the offer.  This is called the Community Sponsorship Scheme.  It was launched by the Government last year.  The voluntary group taking on responsibility is called a Community Sponsoring Organisation (CSO).   They would organise everything from the welcome at the airport, to finding homes for the refugees to live in and guidance to help them settle.  To make sure that these CSOs know what they are doing the Home Office requires each group to apply for accreditation.  Here’s a quote from the Home Office guidance.

Supporting a vulnerable resettled family is a significant responsibility. The Home Office will approve every sponsor. A separate approval is required for each resettled family sponsored. The approval process is designed to establish that the prospective sponsor: a) has sufficient resources (housing, financial and personnel) to support a resettled family; b) has a credible plan for supporting a resettled family, backed by relevant experience; and c) does not present a risk to the resettled family.

Accreditation can take months to achieve.  It’s not cheap either.  One charity worker told me that a CSO would need to raise at least £14,000 per family.  This is £14,000 that would otherwise have had to come out taxpayers’ money if the local council was in charge. 

Despite the challenges, a good number of people are trying to set up Community Sponsoring Organisations.  Some are being formed by religious bodies - Muslim, Jewish and Christian.  In my own area the diocese of Gloucester is applying to be a CSO.  Other CSOs are being formed by Refugees Welcome committees in cities around the country.  The social justice campaign, Citizen UK, has set up a register of groups interested in becoming a CSO.  (Watch an excellent video on that target page, made by Reform Jews).  Under the banner of their National Refugee Welcome Board, Citizen UK is offering CSO training to registered groups.  Anticipating the launch of the scheme, they published a guide at the end of 2015.   If you would like to set up a Community Service Organisation, I suggest you read about the launch of the CSO scheme and sign up with Citizen UK.

Here’s a checklist of the costs and duties drawn up by one group applying for CSO status.

  • Initial set up of housing required before housing benefit is claimed. (Housing must be approved by local authority and be affordable on benefits).
  • Cost to seek professional expertise e.g. interpreters
  • Actual welcome and collection from airport
  • Initial cash for families £200 per member to settle in
  • Support within community, mosques, colleges etc.
  • Assistance with health registration etc. and housing , DWP, HMRC
  • Arrange English classes (mandatory) 
  • Liaise over education provision school entrance etc

CSOs are not going to do everything alone.  They will still need to draw on the expertise of established refugee charities and to liaise with their local council.  But they offer a way accelerate the Syrian refugee programme by bringing the energy and compassionate of ordinary citizens into play.  A similar scheme has worked well in Canada. 

Image: By DFID - UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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