How you can offer protection to refugees
Alaa Khattab, founder of Bermondsey Welcomes Refugees, reflects upon the tragic news of the deaths of 39 people trying to make their way to the UK. He explains how this underlines the importance of the Community Sponsorship scheme and the new global focus of the scheme.
It wasn’t far from where I live in Essex that the bodies of 39 people were found in a lorry. Like so many people in the UK, my mind keeps returning to this horrendous event.
Although we don’t yet know the specific stories of the people who lost their lives in that lorry, we know that they were desperate to reach the UK, and this reminds me how important it is that the UK provides refugees with safe and legal routes to resettlement.
We also know that the people who died in that lorry were not from the countries in the Middle East that we tend to think of when we think about people making dangerous crossings to the UK.
They weren’t from Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan.
This should remind us that there are people in need all over the world and that paths to resettlement should not be restricted to people of particular nationalities.
It’s easy to feel powerless when you hear such tragic stories of people dying on their way to the UK. In this blog, I want to talk about one of the ways that you can directly support a safe and legal route to resettlement in the UK: the Community Sponsorship scheme.
In particular, I’ll explain the significance of the news we received in June 2019 that Community Sponsorship will no longer focus just on refugees affected by the Syrian crisis but will be open to eligible refugees all over the world.
My experience of Community Sponsorship
My name is Alaa and I came to the UK from Syria. Since arriving here, I became involved in the Community Sponsorship scheme, which enables ordinary people in the UK to come together to welcome refugees into their local neighbourhoods. Through this scheme, communities provide wraparound support to refugee families, ensuring that they have proper access to education, healthcare and benefits.
From 2020 onwards, the refugees resettled through Community Sponsorship will be in addition to Government quotas. This means that when you take part in this scheme you are directly increasing the number of people that are able to access a safe and legal route to the UK without risking their lives.
I’ve worked with Community Sponsorship Groups all over the country, offering Arabic-English translation and more general support. Most recently, I set up a Community Sponsorship Group in Bermondsey in London. I can tell you that everyone has skills that they can draw on to help resettle a refugee family. Community Sponsorship is just a question of unlocking the treasure chest of skills that exists in each community.
Shifting the focus from one crisis to the global crisis
I think it was quite natural for me to get involved in Community Sponsorship since the scheme began as a response to the crisis in Syria. But right from the start I was keen for the scheme to expand its focus beyond my home country because I knew that there were crises happening all over the world.
When I heard that Community Sponsorship would be opened up to eligible refugees from all over the world, I immediately saw this as a positive development. I think it shows the scheme developing from being an emotional reaction to a particular crisis to a proactive programme based on the ethical principle that refugees must be protected wherever they are from.
In my view, we have an ethical responsibility as British people and simply as humans to protect refugees whatever their background.
If you want to mobilise your community to offer refugees protection in the UK, get involved.