From Fishguard to Taunton, Community Sponsorship is Crossing Borders and Building Bridges

15 October 2018

Photo taken by Bekele Woyecha, Senior Project Manager at Sponsor Refugees

By Manar Marzouk, Programme Coordinator at Reset Communities and Refugees

On my way to Carmarthen, I was reading a book about humanitarian ethics. One sentence stuck in my mind: “We sympathize more with persons contiguous to us, than with persons remote from us”. Having met sponsor groups across the UK, I can argue that this theory isn’t accurate. These individuals from different backgrounds, who were moved by photos in the media showing the suffering of displaced people in the Middle East, managed to cross borders with their compassion and resettle refugee families into the UK where they can make a new start in their lives.

In 2016, the Home Office launched Community Sponsorship as a programme for the resettlement of refugee families in the UK through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). This programme enables any group in the UK to become directly involved in supporting the resettlement of refugees fleeing conflict and facilitating their integration into life in the UK. Reset and its partners support groups around the UK throughout the application process and provide them with training and resources.

So far, 24 families have been resettled into different communities in the UK. Some of the sponsor groups, such as those lead by Caritas Salford, are Catholic, whilst others, such as the Methodist Network in Birmingham, are inter-faith. Members of these groups have one thing in common: they all feel responsibility towards refugees and relate to their suffering. In a meeting with Welsh sponsor groups, I asked them why they got engaged in community sponsorship. A participant told “We couldn’t keep watching the suffering of people in Syria without acting. I can relate myself to them,”. “I can’t solve the whole Syrian crisis, but I can do something, for a few people,” said Olwen Thomas, a member of Croeso Abergwaun in Fishguard.

The resettlement of Syrian refugees into rural communities in the UK has created a bridge between different cultures. Food is one aspect of the social bridges that have started to emerge. During a community sponsorship summit organised by Reset and Citizens Wales, I was excited as a Syrian to learn the recipe of Baba Ghanoush, a typical Middle-Eastern starter dish, from a member of one of community sponsors that attended the event. The fact that a Syrian family had been resettled in her neighbourhood helped familiarise her with Middle-Eastern food and culture. Similarly, in a meeting with CHARIS, who sponsored a refugee family in Taunton, I was welcomed with Maamoul bil Tamer, typical Syrian cookies, next to English tea. I understood from Lisa, Reset’s Regional Coordinator in the South West, that this is one of the cookies she enjoys baking with the resettled family in her town.

Two years ago, the pioneers of sponsor groups dreamed of resettling only one refugee family into their faith groups and charities. Today, during one of the workshops at the Carmarthen summit, two participating groups set a new goal: “A refugee family in each town in Wales”. Similarly, during one community sponsorship event in Birmingham with Mercy Mission, Muslim leaders expressed the hope that one day each mosque would sponsor a refugee family. On my way back home, I asked myself: “What if each town, each mosque, each church, each gurdwara and each synagogue in the UK were to resettle only one refugee family?”



From Fishguard to Taunton, Community Sponsorship is Crossing Borders and Building Bridges was originally published in Reset UK on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


From Fishguard to Taunton, Community Sponsorship is Crossing Borders and Building Bridges is also published in Reset UK on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.