By Susan Gately - 20 July, 2016
The UK has committed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament. Yesterday bishops and Catholic parishes in the UK gave an enthusiastic welcome to the launch of the ‘Community Sponsorship’ scheme for Syrian refugees which will allow faith communities, including Catholic parishes, to get involved in personally welcoming, settling and supporting refugees as they arrive in the UK. The first families to arrive under the scheme will arrive later this summer.
Led by Caritas Salford, the Church were heavily involved in putting the scheme together. They believe community sponsorship is the best way of channelling the outpouring of support, concern and generosity across the country for vulnerable Syrian refugees made homeless by conflict and war. Catholics keen to help are encouraged to get involved by contacting their Diocesan refugee co-ordinator or Caritas Social Action Network.
Welcoming the news, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, reminded Catholics of how last year Pope Francis invited every parish, religious house and monastery in Europe to respond to the growing refugee crisis by offering a place of sanctuary to families fleeing from war and persecution in their home countries. “The Pope called on our generosity and solidarity to recognise and act upon our common humanity. Now we are all able to take up that call,” he said.
Catholics have been keen to get involved in helping to resettle refugees, said Cardinal Nichols, but their generosity needed to be channelled. “We are therefore delighted that community sponsorship is being launched in the UK. This innovative scheme will enable everyone to get involved with welcoming refugees, offering a very real and tangible way for people to help new arrivals settle into their communities.”
The Community sponsorship only applies to Syrians currently living in the region of Syria. The refugees coming to the UK under community sponsorship will be included in the 20,000 resettlement quota up to 2020. Community sponsors may not identify Syrians in the region that they wish to sponsor (so Syrians already in the UK will not be able to bring in family members) and it may not be used to house or support unaccompanied children.
The refugees coming to Britain under the scheme will be selected and screened by the UNHCR. They will receive training about life in Britain and their flights will be paid. They will receive a 5-year humanitarian visa (and thereafter will be able to apply to stay in the UK and eventually become citizens) and adults will be entitled to work from Day 1 or seek Job Seekers Allowance. Families will be entitled to access to the NHS, claim housing benefit and children will get free schooling.
Different groups of people are eligible to get involved in community sponsorship: faith communities, local business groups, businesses and universities. Community sponsors are expected to welcome the refugees, provide a welcome pack to keep them going for their first days and practically help them settle in – explaining bus routes, giving English classes etc.