£1m from a US-based foundation has been pledged to help encourage communities across the UK to resettle hundreds more refugee families.
Money from The Shapiro Foundation will be used to support the community sponsorship scheme, which enables grassroots groups to offer a home to refugees who are in greatest need, including survivors of violence and torture, and also people who require urgent medical treatment.
Community sponsorship groups, since its launch in 2016, have resettled 449 refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
One of the triumphs of community sponsorship has been its success in offering families sanctuary in parts of the UK such as remote rural areas, not previously regarded as obvious places for refugees to resettle.
The Covid-19 crisis has caused UK resettlement schemes to stall but the hope is that the Shapiro Foundation funds will help give the grassroots movement new impetus.
Chair of the trustees of Citizens UK, whose Sponsor Refugees arm helps communities set up local schemes, The Rev Canon Karen Rooms, described the Shapiro fund as a ‘game-changer’.
She said: “It will enable us, and other charities, to take the number of local community sponsorship groups we support to another level, safe in the knowledge that there is financial support available should a serious problem arise”.
The fund which was recently launched by Ed Shapiro, managing trustee of The Shapiro Foundation, at an event organised by Citizens UK called the Refugees Still Welcome Assembly. The gathering of community leaders from across the UK celebrated the partnership between civil society, national government and local councils that resettled 20,000 refugees since 2015.
In response to the Syrian crisis, the UK government launched the vulnerable persons relocation scheme for Syrian nationals, which aimed to bring in 20,000 refugees by 2020. By October, more than 19,750 people had been brought in.
Groups such as Citizens UK campaigned at the time of the launch for local groups to play a bigger role in resettling refugees and the community sponsorship was created.
Citizens UK has called on the UK government to build on the vulnerable persons scheme by resettling a further 25,000 refugees by 2025.
The new UK community sponsorship backstop fund could enable 200 new local groups to resettle approximately 1,000 additional refugees in the UK.
Ed Shapiro said: “My family has been directly involved in sponsoring Syrian refugees in our own community in Boston, for the past four years and can testify to the difference it makes, not just by transforming the lives of a Syrian family, but by transforming the community too”.
“We have been inspired by the humanity of hundreds of people in neighbourhoods across Britain who have already sponsored a refugee family, and now we want to see hundreds more take up the community sponsorship challenge in the years to come. We are also hopeful that the UK will serve as a model for the global expansion of community sponsorship, including the US in 2021.
The backstop fund will reduce the financial exposure of lead sponsor charities in the event that a local community sponsorship group being unable to fulfil its resettlement plan for the refugee family they have welcomed.
This will allow lead sponsors such as Citizens UK support a further 200 community sponsorship applications with substantial resources available as a last resort if a local group runs into difficulties.