A local response to a global refugee crisis

A local response to a global refugee crisis

As our TV screens bring more atrocious news about the worsening refugee crisis, there is a natural call for us as human beings to do the decent thing. We see people stranded in camps around the world, seeking safety and a better life.

A group of hands coming together
"Community sponsorship is indeed an idea whose time has come." - Bekele Woyecha, Fellow

There are more than 79 million people displaced around the world, according to UNHCR, of whom about 26 million are refugees. The crisis is getting worse by the day. There is nothing worse than seeing fellow humans suffering while in search of a home in an unknown place and country. We are morally challenged to ask ourselves how we have reacted to these disheartening challenges.

As a 2018 Churchill Fellow, I travelled to Canada to see their refugee sponsorship programme. The equivalent programme in the UK is called Community Sponsorship, which is a scheme that enables community groups to become directly involved in supporting the resettlement of refugees fleeing conflict and need protection. The aim of my Fellowship was to discover how such a global challenge was being addressed in local communities. I also wanted to see how civil society, businesses, universities, schools, faith and non-faith groups, associations and individuals stepped in to deal with the worsening refugee crisis.

A man and a woman shaking hands
Bekele (right) met with Senator Mobina Jaffer at the Canada Senate during his Fellowship travels Download 'Bekele Woyecha_Blog2.jpg'

I was also interested to see how my Fellowship findings could support the community sponsorship programme that had been launched in the UK in 2016. This community sponsorship scheme has been instrumental in bringing civil society on board. It has paved ways for civil society to do what it is good at – coming together and supporting a family in need. To do so, citizens did not need to be experts in refugee resettlement. As veteran community sponsor Nick Coke says, “We may not be experts in refugee resettlement, but we are experts in our communities.” 

The community sponsorship scheme has several benefits to both community sponsors and sponsored families. These include increasing resettlement numbers, providing a voice and power to private citizens, creating refugee advocacy within the community and encouraging direct contact between refugees and host communities.

As Canada has been at the forefront of the refugee sponsorship movement, there was a lot to learn and lots to adapt for a UK context as and when situations allow. Based on what I learnt, here are four recommendations that would help community sponsorship of refugees to succeed in the UK.

Bringing businesses on board

Currently only organisations with charitable status can provide community sponsorship to refugees. There should be concerted efforts to bring businesses on board to widen the scope of community sponsorship. For example, businesses could join local groups as sponsors, or provide financial support to such groups. They could also provide job and internship opportunities to newcomers

Involvement from universities and higher education

These establishments should consider building a sponsorship family which brings students, lecturers, and administrative staff from universities together to fulfil community sponsorship. There are many people who are young, talented, and ready to take up studies and flourish if they get opportunities. Often they get stuck in refugee camps for years, if they do not meet the ‘vulnerability criteria’. Hence there should a refugee sponsorship programme and pool of sponsors to support such individuals.

Sponsorship in school

This will help future generations to understand the global challenges faced by refugees and take practical steps to be part of the solution. This will also bring the families of pupils together, which could consequently create inter-generational sponsors.

Long term investment in refugee sponsorship

There should be multiple funders to support those who are promoting the scheme, those giving practical support and those working to support the programme locally, nationally and globally. Hence there is a need for government, philanthropy, trusts, foundations, and individuals to provide financial support to see a successful refugee sponsorship programme.

Community sponsorship is indeed an idea whose time has come. The benefits are mutual and will benefit both the host communities and the newcomers.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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