Saturday, 16 November 2019

Global Response to a Global Crisis – Community Sponsorship as an option

Cork in Ireland welcomed Global Champions that gathered for the Community Sponsorship Champions Summit, that took place from 13-15 November 2019. The Community Sponsorship Champions Summit, which was organised by the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative in cooperation with Irish partners has been a rejuvenating, revitalising and equally thought provoking event.

The launch of the Community Sponsorship Ireland from pilot to full programme was the culmination of a 3 days long summit, which brought opportunities to share, learn and take stock. Opportunity to see the depth and breadth of work that has been done in countries where Community Sponsorship has been around for some time. But also, opportunity for those who are exploring the scheme.

David Stanton, Minister of State at Department of Justice and Equality made a remarkable speech at the official launch. The Minister, who is a great ally and champion of Community Sponsorship, said “Community Sponsorship enables sponsor groups to provide not only supports to refugees but also to extend hands of friendship and a warm welcome to them.  I strongly urge communities the length and breadth of the country to get involved in this programme. These community efforts create such a positive experience for refugees coming to Ireland.” Minister Stanton also thanked what he called ‘the critical friends’, who have come together to deliver this exciting and impactful initiative. The Community Sponsorship Ireland launch event was a great opportunity to bring government officials, Community Sponsors, Newcomers, Civil Society Organisations, Community Groups and delegates from UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Agrgentina, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA and Brazil.

The most momentous moment of the launch event was having little girl, Eman Ahmad, who has been able to demonstrate her painting skills, natural gifts and her generosity. She brought beautiful and meaningful picture to give to the Minister and through him to the people of Ireland. The day before the launch, Eman had also extended her gifts in terms of paintings to Jennifer Bond, Chair of The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative and Dennis Cole, representative of Canadian Government. Eman is the future with lots of hopes, aspirations and  dreams.

In her opening remarks at the launch of Community Sponsorship Ireland, Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, the Migrant & Refugee Rights Centre, said “Sponsoring a refugee family has been a transformative experience for both refugees and the communities they become part of.

Although the Community Sponsorship Ireland launch was the culmination of the champions summit, lots happened from 13-15 November, thanks to a great organising by Janice Bothello and Irish partners. A visit to Midleton, East Cork and meetings with resettled families, sponsors and partners gave us chance to see the depth of the Irish Community Sponsorship initiative. We further had helpful discussions, workshops and brainstorming events with useful inputs from friends and experts of the Community Sponsorship scheme and beyond that gathered in Cork. Tim Dixon of More in Common and Lauren Rodman led on two engaging workshops. Tim Dixon said, “Community Sponsorship offers huge creative potential for powerful storytelling that unites people across the divisions of values and politics.” 

The Global Challenge needs Global Action 

The Community Sponsorship stories from around the globe tell us that coordinated action to address a global challenge is possible. The stories give us chance to have trust and confidence in the global community to address one of the biggest challenges of our generation. They also give us hope. But we have more to do; and we can do better than this. The world has to once again come together to find solutions that are global. Leadership is sought from the International Community. CSOs, community groups, universities, schools, businesses and others have to step up and step in. Time to say, ‘we are all in this together more than ever’ and respond to the global call practically. Yes, it is now and only now that we have to have those bold, courageous and life changing decisions.  

At the same time, it is vital to nurture the Refugee Sponsorship scheme that is available; invest in capacity building and extend support to the most vulnerable people in our generation. Governments need to pledge to act and deliver on their pledges. Civil society should organise more, coordinate and lead by examples. Our institutions, faith and non-faith have to show leadership beyond simple words. We need to Walk The Talk. Address anger and frustration by doing the right thing now. To finish with a biblical reflection, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” James 2:14-17

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Recognition and Celebration – Canada House Welcomes Community Sponsorship champions

Celebrating Community Sponsorship of Refugees is celebrating community sponsors and their sponsored families; it is celebrating all those involved in the scheme; it is about celebrating all things Community Sponsorship encompasses. That is why I love this great scheme and want to see it flourish not only in the UK, but across the globe. That it is not the only reason for my love for the scheme. For me, it gives me chance to pay back and be amongst those who welcome newcomers. I am someone who once was seeking sanctuary, now working with many people around the United Kingdom to welcome newcomers.

I once was an asylum seeker, a detainee, a number in a detention centre in London, a refugee and now a British and global citizen. I have seen the good and the bad of the Immigration System. But there is something special in Community Sponsorship of Refugees. It is a scheme that gives both newcomers and sponsors equal voices; it is a partnership of equals; a scheme delivered in a friendly and relational way; not like a client- service provider type.

As someone who has been involved in Community Sponsorship for a while, I have had chance to meet the heroines and heroes of the scheme. Folks keen to do their bits to welcome newcomers. Newcomers working hard to rebuild their lives, integrate and become self-sufficient. Newcomers with big dreams and aspirations. Sponsors that are very creative and always ready to go extra mile to make a difference. Many of these great sponsors did not have experience of refugee resettlement in the past but have been exceeding expectations. As my good friend and one of the great champions of Community Sponsorship, Nick Coke says, “We may not be experts in refugee resettlement, but we are experts in our communities”.

8th October 2019 has a great place in the history of Community Sponsorship in the United Kingdom and globally. Sponsor Refugees, where I am a part of,  was able to bring together champions of the scheme from across the United Kingdom, North America, Ireland and Switzerland for the 2nd Community Sponsorship Awards ceremony which was hosted by prominent BBC personality and community sponsor – Claudia Hammond and Hani Arnaout, originally from Syria and resettled through Community Sponsorship, now living in Devon. Hani and his family are inspirational. It is a family that strives to succeed and fun to be around. Another newcomer highly involved in the ceremony was Falak Batak from Narberth, Wales. Falak was one of the winners of the 2018 awards and this year she had the role of presenting an award. Falak aspires to be an interior designer and promotes the scheme whenever possible. 

This year’s awards ceremony had 28 deserving nominees with great and heart catching stories. And of course, Ireland as the winner of the International Award, which was sponsored by the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI); a reminder that other countries are taking stock and steeping in to see Community Sponsorship flourish in their countries. It won’t be long until we see Community Sponsorship spread across Europe and beyond.

The fact that this year’s awards ceremony took place at the spectacular Canada House was so fitting for Canada’s long standing tradition of welcome. After all Canada has introduced refugee sponsorship to the world and has always been on hand to extend expertise and support. So good to have had Canada’s Deputy Immigration Minister, Ms. Catrina Tapley, with us as the guest of honor. Canada’s High Commissioner to the UK, Her Excellency Janice Charette, welcomed guests to Canada house and said, “ It’s my pleasure to have Canada House host the Community Sponsorship Awards this year, to celebrate your collective and individual achievements in building and expanding the Community Sponsorship Scheme here in the UK.

Among the awards presenters was prominent British actor Peter Capaldi whom many people know for his roles in Telly. Peter’s role as Doctor Who and Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It is widely known. Peter was among the audience not as a telly man, rather as one of those involved in Community Sponsorship locally in Muswell Hill, North London. Here is Peter’s full speech. 

October 8 was about recognition and celebration, but also a reminder that the refugee crisis is still there, and it is even worse today than it was in 2015 that needs our collective efforts. It is a reminder that we need to diversify the scheme, engage not only individuals and charities, but also do more outreach works to bring Businesses, Universities, Schools and others who might be interested to welcome and integrate newcomers. An opportunity to take stock and challenge self.

© Photos 👉 @Sponsor Refugees & Ian Brodie  
© Video 👉 Bekele Woyecha

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

‘My Name Is Why’ – perfect birthday gift

ለምን ሲሳይ እና ዘፍጥረት 
I am not that good at choosing a birthday gift or gift of any type. This is partly because I hate shopping and the stress associated with it. My son’s 15th is something to celebrate and once again some work to look for a perfect gift to the big boy.

As my son turns 15, I thought I should look for a surprise gift so fitting that he remembers it for a while. I didn’t know how, but I had to. Once again, I had to resort to online shopping. Hence after some deep thinking and consultations, I thought I should book some exciting show as a gift and see his reaction. I looked for events we can both go to and enjoy whilst it is something that could inspire him. As soon as I knew Lemn Sissay would have an event in London, I thought that would be a great opportunity. Yes, I was right. It really paid off.

ለምን ሲሳይ
August 31st at Rich Mix in London was astonishingly beautiful. It was a day of poetry, moving stories by the one and only one Lemn, great azmari bet music by Zewditu and contemporary music by DJ Sami, hosted by Selam Amare and co. Above all my son had the opportunity to get his signed copy of Lemn Sissay’s newly published memoir ‘My Name Is Why’.  Both my son and I have had chance to read this heart wrenching and astonishingly breathtaking book and chance to reflect on life and the misery and blessings associated with it as we live our daily lives. Happy that I decided to go for it. ‘My Name is Why’ is indeed a perfect birthday gift.

If you’re thinking of a small, but memorable gift, go for this great book. Happy reading!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Ethiopia - from closed to open society

Ethiopia has been going through changes since Dr. Abiy Ahmed took charge of the horn African country in early 2018. 

The Positives – The changes in Ethiopia under the leadership of Dr. Abiy Ahmed have exceeded expectations of many both at home and abroad. Dr Abiy has the trust and confidence of many people both in Ethiopia and around the world. 

The opportunities – The change in Ethiopia has brought opportunities for Ethiopians both at home and abroad to engage in the affairs of their beloved homeland. It has paved ways for the opposition to contribute to the democratisation of the country. It has brought back the confidence of investors, which if nurtured properly could mean job opportunities, taxation, economic growth and march towards a better Ethiopia, that is open and inclusive. The international community is closely watching and willing to go to Ethiopia and work with the government, businesses, civic groups and other stakeholders. There are initiatives at different levels that are encouraging. The media has for the first-time freedom to operate freely.

The challenges – The change is not without challenges. The resistance to change by the political elites needs careful and thoughtful solution based on mutual understanding and open debates. The rise of tribalism and ethnicism is deeply worrying. Irresponsible use of social media and some of the media outlets including Fake news, Misinformation and Disinformation is very alarming. Polarisation of some of the so-called ‘political elites’ is disturbing. Egocentrism and individual fanaticism have triumphed over the past many months. The conflicts in universities; displacements and the resistance to change in many areas are among the challenges that need addressing patiently and wisely.

The need for Office for Civil Society

Ethiopia needs to have office for civil society to help civil society engage in local democracy actively. There are lots of areas and sectors of society that need visiting and revisiting. There is a need to organise folks across Ethiopia and help them engage in what really matters to them. They should be able to set the agenda on issues that really matter to them and help the country flourish through the process. They should be encouraged to be part of the changes in the country. When community leaders buy the ideals of organised and open Civil Society, Community Organising, Participatory and Adaptive Leadership; when they act on issues that matter to them and achieve results together; when they feel it is in their self-interests to engage when time, place and conditions allow; then they all contribute to the betterment of their homeland and help Ethiopia go from closed to open society.

Where to start

  1. Our universities need to engage students, local community leaders, elders, alumni, etc to get the best out of them. Universities have to be places of study, research, participation and hope.  Our schools also need to engage in local democracy, institutional and leadership development.
  2. Civic institutions should take stock and proactively step in and step up. All the religious institutions have roles to play. There should be honest and open discussions with the leaders of every denomination and also with traditional and cultural leaders. The contributions of civic institutions like ‘Iqub’ ‘Edir’ ‘Mahber’ etc need to be taken seriously. Civic institutions should participate in local, regional and national democracies. Strong and functioning civil society is the basis for an open, inclusive, strong and democratic society.
  3. Trade unions and unions of any kind –these unions have a lot to contribute. There is a need to work with this sector and have them actively involved.
  4. The media - online, offline, printed, video and audio. It is vital we take this very seriously especially as Ethiopia plans to go into general election. This sector is at times very polarised. The dangers of fake news, misinformation, hate speech and disinformation need due attention and proper handling. The sector should be supported to be more professional and accountable. Due attention should also be given for the sector as it is under resourced and lacks diversity. We need to see more women and young people in the media.
  5. The judiciary, police and civil service need to be taken on board. Capacity building and practical support is important to have an independent judiciary, police and civil service. All these have to be free from political interference and deliver their duties according to their books.
In general, as Ethiopia moves from closed to open society, there is a need for patience and calm and concentrate on the wider picture – peaceful and prosperous Ethiopia that is for all, not for a few ‘political elites’. Change Ethiopia for Ethiopians in an open society.  

Friday, 31 May 2019

My experience reporting in Ethiopia: from the democratization process to the drought crisis

                                                       By Margherita Cargasacchi 

Addis Ababa is a colorful city sinking beneath the mountains into a valley of high-rise buildings under construction, clashing with slums and children grazing goats and lambs while cars wallpapered with pictures of the Virgin Mary roar around and pop up from everywhere. In the ochre and dusty city of Addis the crazy chaos seems to have its own meaningful order of things.
There is a positive energy in this city which overwhelms you with its warm colors - red, yellow, orange and pink stand out in every street - along with Christian and Muslim morning prayers and the aroma of freshly ground coffee. Three weeks after my return from Ethiopia, I can say that being there was an incredible work and life experience for me.


I travelled to Ethiopia with the organization I work for, the International Observatory of Human Rights, on 27th April to tell the story of a country which is undertaking a huge democratization process. We were all very glad that we were able to participate somehow in this change: my colleagues and I finally managed to tell a positive human rights story.  For journalists, human rights stories are rarely happy ones. Only a year ago, Ethiopia was one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world. It was only when Dr. Abiy Ahmed took office in April 2018, that democratic reforms were issued, journalists were released from prison, private media were able to operate in the country and “thorny” websites were unblocked.

Democratic change within a country always takes time, so before leaving England I was a bit skeptical. Once in Ethiopia, I found the strength of its people who are trying to do good and better for their country. Although the government still has many challenges to face - ethnic division is just one of them - I could feel a new positive vibe. While covering the giant steps that Abiy’s administration has made, for IOHR TV, we met Ethiopian journalists, bloggers and people who lived in exile for many years, like EILCO’s founders. Despite what they went through, they now want to share their own experience and make this democratic change not only possible, but also felt by the rest of the population. The most powerful freeze-frame I’ve brought back home is the emotions in the eyes of people like Bekele Woyecha and journalist Woubshet Taye when meeting the Prime Minister at the World Press Freedom Day dinner gala. I can’t even imagine how it must have felt when the new Prime Minister of your homeland, a country you were not allowed to enter for many years, tells you: “Welcome home. We need you”.

As a journalist myself, it was a privilege to meet someone like Woubshet Taye, who unjustly spent seven years in jail for his critical coverage of the government. When I asked him who he is today, he said that he is nobody, just someone who is trying to do his job. His answer really made me realize that freedom of expression in the Western world is often taken for granted by journalists themselves. We need to do more to support the challenges and struggles that our colleagues face in developing countries and dictatorships. Campaigns to protect journalists worldwide are, in fact, a quite recent phenomenon. Pressure means a lot for them. Look at the case of Reuters' journalists in Myanmar. The international pressure was significant in this case. Back in Addis we interviewed the brother of Reuters' journalist Wa Lone, who was imprisoned in Myanmar. A few days after World Press Freedom Day in Ethiopia, Wa Lone and his colleague Kyaw Soo Oe were released.

When I arrived in the country, the Ethiopians I met were so thrilled about the new political situation that for a moment I thought that they were overlooking the gaps that still had to be filled, but I was wrong. The people I met are attentive critical thinkers. Between exploring the city, tasting Tej and seeing amazing dancers at the restaurant - Yod Abyssinia, I also had the chance to meet the students and the head of the university of journalism at the Addis Ababa University. They are all very aware about what needs to be done and how journalism could blossom in the country: students recognise that access to state owned information and unemployment are still challenging issues; Amanuel Abdissa, of the school of journalism, told me that a quantitative growth of media has taken place versus a qualitative one and that investigative journalism is still hard to do; blogger Befekadu Hailu, who was jailed four times, told me that a new law passed by the Parliament will decrease income of broadcasters by 45% and that the new government instituted an Advisory Council to reform the justice system and look at repressive laws that are still practiced.

After seeing how Ethiopians and the diaspora like EILCO are trying to create change, I would like to do some voluntary work and be involved in journalism training projects.


I didn’t just have the opportunity to report in the fourth largest city in Africa, Addis Ababa, but I was able to put myself to the test in a different environment. We travelled with Oxfam to the north of the country, Mekele, to cover how the drought crisis and climate change are impacting the lives of small communities there. When crossing the lands of the north of Ethiopia in an off-road vehicle, people and children on the streets were looking at us astonished. It was probably one of the first times that they saw white people. “Faringi, Faringi”, “foreigner, foreigner”, children shouted as watchmen whenever we got out of the car, then asking us to donate some pens.

In the Tigray region, Oxfam launched a project dedicated to landless youth and women to give them a good life alternative: beekeeping. This business perfectly fits into the very arid landscape they live in. There, cattle don’t have any grass to munch. Moreover, Ethiopia is famous for its special white honey, so beekeeping is definitely a good opportunity for them. I was struck, not just by the change this project brought to people’s quality of life, but also by how it empowered them and positively influenced the idea of themselves.

Teferi Kassa, a 22-year-old man, is very proud of himself today. He tried many times to immigrate illegally to Saudi Arabia to escape the hard life of his village. In the end, he decided to stay in Ethiopia as Oxfam trained him to become a beekeeper. He now manages many bee colonies and sells his delicious white honey to the local market. With the money he has earned, he bought a pool that he rents to this village. He then invests the money back into his beekeeping business.

In his small village, everybody now sees him as a successful entrepreneur. He now feels fulfilled, but others like him didn’t have the same chance. 15 young men from the same district escaped the warm land of Africa and drowned trying to find hope in Europe. My country, Italy, is witnessing this humanitarian crisis. After meeting young people there, its new stance on migration makes me question even more about the role of ‘bridge counties’ like mine and about how EU countries need to work together to face this issue. Just this week The Economist dedicated a lot of space to the bond climate-migration stating that “Moving is a rational way to adapt to a changing environment”.

However, when I met the second beekeeper and her husband, I realized that they didn’t understand why their two sons and daughters went illegally to Saudi Arabia. It was moving to talk to them about how new generations’ goals and ideas have changed, compared to the values and culture of elders. On the wall of their house, a poster written in Tigrigna says: “It’s only when you are far away from each other that you really miss someone”.

Global Response to a Global Crisis – Community Sponsorship as an option

Cork in Ireland welcomed Global Champions that gathered for the Community Sponsorship Champions Summit, that took place from 13-15 Nove...