"There is no time to lose": Why refugee resettlement must resume
Paul Hutchings co-founded Refugee Support Europe 4 years ago after his experiences volunteering in Calais moved him to act. This year, Refugee Support Europe set up their first Community Sponsorship Group in Birmingham.
Community Sponsorship is something a little bit different for us at Refugee Support Europe. The focus of our work has been on filling the gaps in crisis situations that other agencies aren’t able to fill. We’ve recruited over 1000 volunteers from more than 40 countries to respond to emergencies in Greece, Cyprus and Mexico. But now we’re looking closer to home.
Community Sponsorship is a refugee resettlement programme with local people at its core. It mobilises communities to sponsor refugees to come to the UK and then support them to independence. At first, our decision to embark on Community Sponsorship was largely a pragmatic response to the pandemic but, as I’ll explain, I’ve become increasingly excited about the potential to effect real change by sponsoring refugees.
I’m writing this blog now to ask for your help. We’ve submitted our application to sponsor a refugee family and are waiting for approval from the Home Office, but unfortunately this is about as far as we can get in our Community Sponsorship journey because no refugees are currently being resettled in the UK. This is because the Government has not restarted resettlement since it was halted in March in response to Covid-19. I’m calling on you to write to your MP to ask them to restart resettlement as soon as possible. In this blog, I’ll explain why it matters.
It’s often said that there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems. Yes, you can give food, you can give clothes, and you can say you’re standing shoulder to shoulder – and there are times when that is absolutely necessary. But what makes a real, long-term difference is policy change. And in a democracy, policy change is rooted in changes in us – in you and me, in our mindsets, in our priorities. So when it comes to the refugee crisis, what we need first and foremost is compassion towards refugees on a national scale. But how does that come about?
I’m going to repeat a phrase which is horrible but sadly accurate: one death is a tragedy, 100,000 deaths is a statistic. You cannot possibly get your head around what 100,000 deaths truly means. You can’t take in that much pain. It’s too much. But the death of one person, one family, one story – that sticks with you.
So change comes from meaningful relationships. It comes from connecting with other people. One meaningful connection can change an opinion. I know from my own experience that it’s very hard to be unsympathetic to someone once you know them.
And that’s what Community Sponsorship is all about: local people supporting integration into a local community. It facilitates those relationships, and in so doing, it creates a country with a culture of welcome.
Canada first introduced a refugee sponsorship programme back in 1979. More than 300,000 refugees have since been sponsored to Canada, and experts and officials attribute the high level of support for resettlement in Canada to this programme. Nearly one-third of Canadians have either sponsored refugees themselves or know someone who has.
As I mentioned, our reasons for pursuing Community Sponsorship at first were partly pragmatic. With lockdowns being imposed around the world, it was looking impractical to focus on flying volunteers to different locations. We were also increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of this model, and so Community Sponsorship was the right opportunity at the right time.
Now that we’re further through the Community Sponsorship journey, I’m really excited about the potential of this project to create meaningful, long-lasting change. We’re not going to abandon Community Sponsorship once we can go back to our old ways of working – we’re committed to seeing this through.
My co-founder John lives in Birmingham so this is where our first Community Sponsorship Group is based, and if it goes well then we’ll think about setting up in a couple more locations. Once we’ve got approval for the Home Office to go ahead, we’ll hold a public meeting (virtually) and spread the word as far as possible throughout Birmingham.
Community Sponsorship is part of an effort to ensure that refugees are welcome in the UK for the long term. That’s why we need to get this programme up and running again as soon as possible. During pandemics, it’s easy for us to become more mistrustful of strangers and more inclined to simply turn our backs. We need to ensure that we emerge from this pandemic more compassionate, not more divided. There is no time to lose. Other countries have restarted resettlement, let’s do the same.
"There is no time to lose": Why refugee resettlement must resume is also published in Reset UK on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.