21 October 2017

Community Sponsorship of Refugees - Where it all begun for me

I still recall sitting in a room with colleagues from Citizens UK to talk about the worsening refugee crisis; talking about what we could do to discharge ourselves responsibly. The meeting was called by George Gabriel, who returned to London from the US. There was also another colleague, Daniel Mackintosh, in that room at 112 Cavell street. That goes back all the way to September 2015. Yes, that time needed some bold decisions and we have never been shy from taking such decisions. It was important to step in and do our bits to see change happen. Yes, it wasn't enough to feel sorry about the crisis; we had to do something about it. But we couldn’t do it on our own. That was why we had to organise, organise and organise. It was all about creating a movement out of the moment. After all it takes us all to address the crisis.

We have gone a long journey since then. The time in between has not been simple. It has had its ups and downs. But we know that life is not a bed of roses and we should stand up to challenges and use these challenges as opportunities to organise and change the course of history.

But for me it was beyond a call of duty. I have the experience of fleeing my home country. Seeking sanctuary and adjusting to life in my new home – Britain. I am a living testimony that Britain is a more humane and one of the most welcoming countries in the world. That is what I saw when I travelled up and down the country to work with people that were keen to welcome refugees. From Lewes to Totnes, from Petersfield to Cheltenham, from Bath to Crawley, from Leicester to Devon and many more places I had the opportunity to go to, people were keen to welcome and integrate refugees. They were ready for more practical work. People ready to get stuck in. That life changing experience taught me that we needed a scheme where communities could take charge of refugee welcome and become part of the integration process.

Hence the introduction of the community sponsorship scheme in July 2016 was a commendable first step. For people like me, getting it right on arrival is more than important. The first few years have impact on the lives of newcomers, especially for integration. And I believe community sponsorship can give that opportunity to newcomers.  Many people tell me that they are sad to see fellow humans denied the right to a decent life which strips people of their dignity as human beings. And the same people tell me that we all have a humanitarian responsibility to allow refugees the freedom to get sanctuary and rebuild their lives.  

Welcome Summit September 2016
The culmination of the first phase of our welcome work was 10th September 2016, when we had a welcome summit in Birmingham which brought together more than 550 community leaders from across the country. By the end of the summit, it was important to prioritise where to concentrate on in the coming months and years and luckily promotion of community sponsorship was one of the three areas. And for me, it was once again a very good opportunity to work with communities across Britain to promote refugee welcome through community sponsorship.

The journey has gone from strength to strength and I am learning a lot through the process.  It is more than encouraging to see newcomers resettled in different parts of the country including in places like Narberth in Wales and Devon.  We now see people keen to explore the scheme and do practical work. This is heart-warming.  
Launch of Sponsor Refugees 42 pledges

To keep the ball rolling and to promote community sponsorship further, the arrival of Citizens UK’s new foundation, Sponsor Refugees, is more than a bonus. It was great to see more than 25 groups and organisations willing and on course to welcome 42 families. This is only the beginning and it won’t be long until community sponsorship becomes an established tradition in Britain as it is in Canada.  I believe we should take the opportunity community sponsorship brings to us and take charge of refugee welcome and integration. We can do it and we can do it now. After all, if not us, then who? If not now, then when?

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