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Community Sponsorship of Refugees

Refugees often have to take dangerous routes to reach the Netherlands, but community sponsorship works on the basis of an invitation: a ‘sponsor group’ of five people – friends, family, colleagues, neighbours – invite a refugee (family) to their own hometown, so that they can settle in their new place of residence from day one. The group engages their social and professional network and provides support with practical matters so that the newcomers can land quickly and build lasting relationships within the community.

Safe routes and safe havens form two inseparable pillars of community sponsorship: making it possible that refugees can arrive through legal and safe routes and that they can count on the supporting network of citizens in their new place of residence.

What is Community Sponsorship?

Community sponsorship is applied in diverse ways worldwide. With some variants, refugees arrive through a humanitarian visa and with others via resettlement. With some variants, groups can design whom they want to invite (‘Naming’) and within others this is done by the UN refugee organisation (UNCHR). Lastly, with some variants sponsor groups only give their time and network, and with other variants they are also financially responsible. All variants of community sponsorship have the following in common:

  1. They provide a legal opportunity to welcome refugees through safe and legal routes, complementing existing resettlement programmes.
  1. They divide the responsibility for financial, societal and social support through a public-private partnership between the government, civil society and citizens, with the government having the primary responsibility for integration.

Active citizenship is a crucial component of community sponsorship: the difference between volunteering is that a sponsor group itself takes responsibility for welcoming the refugees and is supported by an organisation, whereas volunteers work for an organisation. If residents are given the opportunity to take on this responsibility, they can relieve the pressure on the capacity of municipalities and partners. In order to maintain their involvement, it is important to not lose sight of the community-based character of sponsorship. This means that there must also be opportunity for groups of residents to exchange knowledge and experiences with each other.

Benefits Community Sponsorship

Community sponsorship offers refugees, the receiving community, and governmental bodies different benefits: Firstly, research about Canadian experiences shows that sponsored refugees experience less (mental) health problems due to lessened pre- and post-departure stress. Additionally, sponsored refugees in Canada show better integration results than refugees supported by the government. Studies on pilots in Europe show the same: there is a consensus that sponsored refugees are more likely to become self-sufficient and more financially independent. With the help of the groups’ networks, they can more quickly find a job and they make less use of social funds from municipalities. Community sponsorship also has a positive effect on language acquisitions of refugees: In Belgium, sponsored refugees learn the language faster than government-supported refugees because they come in contact with the local population more quickly. Rapid language acquisition is essential for finding a job, accessing public facilities and social participation. This also plays a role in increasing support for the arrival of refugees: Research from the Netherlands and Great Britain show that migrants are perceived more positively when they speak the language fluently, have friends within the local community and are socially involved. Finally, community sponsorship gives the opportunity to build meaningful relationships between refugees and the receiving community.

Sponsorship through the community creates opportunities for relationships that otherwise might not exists and contributes to greater social cohesion. Community sponsorship also offers a concrete perspective for action to structurally, instead of ad hoc, anticipate refugee movements in the future. To ensure the support of countries in the region, it is crucial that more legal, safe routes can offer protection in the EU. Resettlement saves lives. According to the UNHCR, the number of people in need of resettlement has risen to a record high of 1.45 million.

The resettlement quotes in Europe must be increased: Not only to offer people with the right to protection a future perspective, but also to better prepare their reception. Residents can and want to play an active role in this.