By Sean Ryan MBE, National Community Sponsorship Coordinator, CSAN
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the temporary suspension of all refugee resettlement to the UK, including families arriving under the Community Sponsorship Scheme. Since the very first community group, a Catholic parish in Manchester, welcomed a refugee family to the UK in November 2016, 55 Catholic parishes have answered the call of Pope Francis to sponsor and resettle a family. Families to date have mostly been displaced by the Syrian conflict, but the scheme has since been expanded to include refugees from around the world.
Despite the suspension of flights, newer groups continue to move forward with their applications and secure Home Office approval, in readiness to welcome families once flights resume.
The pandemic has brought families and sponsor groups together in a wonderful spirit of friendship, solidarity and mutual support. Sponsors have had to be creative in response to social distancing measures, with resettlement, healthcare and English language support all continuing remotely using digital technology. Using videoconferencing technology, there have been daily catch-ups, games and fun fitness workouts for families, ESOL classes and even business support meetings for self-employed former refugees.
Groups have used sponsorship funds to pay for food vouchers and extra devices for all family members to stay connected with schools, ESOL providers, family and friends.
The Community Sponsorship Scheme devolves responsibility for a family’s entire journey, from arrival through to settled independence, to parish communities, led by a team of trained volunteers. Catholic groups have given around 100 refugees to date a warm welcome, a new home, intensive support and an opportunity to rebuild their lives, leading a quiet revolution in how this country welcomes the stranger.
Parishioners for whom the scheme has been their first experience of supporting refugees and migrants are now using their acquired skills to offer support to asylum seekers in their locality, who have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic, and there are plans to offer a similar community-led support model to help rebuild the lives of formerly street homeless people. Sharing the love of Christ with those who have lost everything offers hope in the future for us all.