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Reset’s response to the Northern Ireland Executive Office’s draft Refugee Integration Strategy

18 February 2022

Reset has responded to the draft Refugee Integration Strategy 2022-2027 urging the Executive Office to include within the strategy its ambition to grow Community Sponsorship in Northern Ireland.

At Reset we work to grow Community Sponsorship across all four nations of the UK. Over the last few months we’ve been working closely with the Executive Office in Northern Ireland to ensure that the Community Sponsorship process fits well into the structure of the nation. For example, Community Sponsorship groups in England, Scotland and Wales must get consent from their Local Authorities, but local government in Northern Ireland is not structured in the same way.

We are delighted that the Executive Office has now agreed a streamlined process for granting permission to apply for Community Sponsorship groups in Northern Ireland. A pilot of Community Sponsorship was trialed in Northern Ireland in 2019 very successfully (you can hear from the family resettled here). Since then, we have seen increased interest in the programme and Reset is now working with 4 more Community Sponsorship groups across the nation. The processes that the Executive Office has put in place will help to ensure that these new Community Sponsorship groups can welcome refugee families as soon as possible.

In our response to the Executive Office’s draft Refugee Integration Strategy 2022-2027 we have urged the Executive Office to reflect its commitment to Community Sponsorship in the strategy. We are really looking forward to continuing to work closely with the Executive Office to ensure that Community Sponsorship can fulfil its potential in Northern Ireland providing a warm welcome to as many refugee families as possible.

Read Reset’s response below

Reset Communities and Refugees is a registered charity. Our aim is to empower communities to offer high quality, wraparound support to newly arrived refugees in order to give them the best possible start in the UK. We currently work on 2 programmes: Community Sponsorship and Neighbours for Newcomers. We have responded to this consultation to highlight the potential for Community Sponsorship to form part of Northern Ireland’s strategy for refugee integration.

In the Draft Refugee Integration Strategy 2022-2027, the Executive Office recognises that Community Sponsorship has so far occurred in one location in Northern Ireland as part of a pilot scheme. This pilot scheme has been very successful and we are delighted that the Executive Office has recently developed a new, streamlined process to grant permission to more Community Sponsorship groups to welcome refugee families. We urge you to reflect this new ambition to grow the scale of Community Sponsorship in Northern Ireland within your strategy.

Community Sponsorship gives local people the opportunity to welcome refugee families directly into their local area. Refugees resettled through Community Sponsorship are identified through two resettlement programmes: the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) and the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS). To welcome a family, local people must come together to set up a Community Sponsorship group, raise funds, source a property, complete training with Reset, gain permission from the relevant local government, and submit an application to the Home Office. Community Sponsors make a commitment to support a refugee family throughout their first year in the UK. Their support focuses on helping the family to build relationships, get to know the local area, learn English, access education and/or employment, and navigate key services including healthcare and welfare benefits. There are currently more than 300 Community Sponsorship groups across the UK, all of which are trained by Reset so that they can offer high quality support.

Community Sponsorship aids integration by creating conditions for social contact and mutual learning between newly arrived refugees and longer established communities. Through this programme, refugees begin building local connections right from day one and have access to tailored, hyper-local support and advice. Communities taking part in the programme develop their understanding of the barriers that refugee families can face in their local area and are empowered to work together to find creative solutions to support their new neighbours. Recognising the success of the programme since its launch in 2016, the Home Office identified expanding Community Sponsorship as a key aim in its New Plan for Immigration.

We are so excited by the growing interest in Community Sponsorship from people in Northern Ireland. In 2021 we held a zoom call specifically for people based in Northern Ireland who wanted to learn more about the programme. More than 70 people registered for that call, and we are now providing support to 4 new Community Sponsorship groups in Northern Ireland. We are confident that there is real appetite within Northern Irish communities to participate in the programme and we are really excited to work closely with the Executive Office to ensure that the scheme fulfils its potential.