The Global Compact on Refugees is a framework designed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that represents the political will and ambition of the international community for strengthened cooperation and solidarity with refugees and affected host countries. Access to third-country solutions is one of its four key objectives and this includes the development of Private Sponsorship Programmes that allow individuals and communities to be directly involved in the resettlement of refugees (UNHCR 2018).
In 2020, the European Union’s Pact on Migration and Asylum provided EU members with funding to implement community-based programs inspired by the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) scheme started in Canada in 1979. Community Sponsorship is broadly defined as “a public-private partnership between governments that facilitate legal admission for refugees, and private or community actors who provide financial, social and/or emotional support to receive and settle refugees in the communities” (SHARE Network).
Co-funded by the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the SHARE QSN project was implemented from January 2021 to June 2023 to help pilot and ad-hoc sponsorship initiatives to develop into sustainable, community-driven programs. SHARE brings together a consortium of actors in Belgium (Caritas Belgium), France (Féderation de l’Entraide Protestante), Germany (Caritas Cologne), Ireland (IRC), Italy (Consorzio Comunitas), Spain (Basque Government) and the UK (Citizens UK). The project uses a multi-stakeholder, grassroots and bottom-up strategy fostering refugee participation, bringing all sponsorship stakeholders and the lessons they are learning to the EU level. The project is in close alliance with the UNHCR’s three-year strategy on resettlement and complementary pathways, as well as the EU’s Action Plan on Inclusion and Integration.
As part of its monitoring and evaluation work in the project, the lead partner, ICMC Europe, has since 2021 been working with partners and external evaluators in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Spain to conduct baseline research to gather feedback and insights on the development of community sponsorship models in each partner country. The key aims of this research are:
- to describe the background and key elements of the six settlement/integration sponsorship models
- to explain the roles and responsibilities of the different stakeholders in the scheme;
- to understand the challenges in the various factors that make the transition to autonomous living at the end of the sponsorship period and to explore ways to mitigate those difficulties;
- to improve program effectiveness by highlighting areas of best practice which stakeholders can use to design more effective and efficient future programs;
- to explore the impact of the sponsorship programs in the engagement/transformative nature of sponsorship for the host communities.
Apart from these general objectives, each partner organisation has included specific goals that focus on aspects relevant to their national context. For example, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and Spain adopted the Community Sponsorship. This model places an emphasis on involving members of the local community in the resettlement and integration of newly arrived refugees. Community Sponsorship provides different types of practical support like finding adequate housing, education, health, and jobs. Sponsored refugees are generally identified through a UNHCR-IOM vulnerability assessment rather than individual nominations, and sponsors are matched with arriving refugees by government resettlement officials.
On the other hand, France and Italy adopted the Humanitarian Corridor model. Characteristically, these programs offer a safe and legal entry to vulnerable people in evident prima facie need of protection, as identified in a first stage assessment. Typically, organizations carry out exploratory visits to refugee camps in the chosen countries. After identification, they secure a flight to the host country and then they welcome newcomers with the support of civil society networks and staff that help beneficiaries through the phases of reception and socioeconomic integration.
At the time of writing, the project has gathered information from 140 participants from 16 different localities in the six nations. Most participants have been key stakeholders involved in different capacities in the sponsorship programs, like refugee families, staff from refugee community organizations (RCOs), volunteers working on sponsor groups, local authorities tasked with refugee resettlement, staff in settlement provider agencies, and some wider members of the host communities.
From a first reading of the data analysis some interesting findings have emerged in different aspects of the resettlement process.
I. Pre-departure arrangements
Refugee families and groups of volunteers have found that practical challenges remain in terms of the impact of travel delays for some refugees who have been selected by the UNHCR/IOM. Improving travel logistics as well as managing the expectations of successful refugees helps to reduce levels of frustration.
II. Reception and resettlement
Difficulty in finding affordable and appropriate housing to host sponsored refugees is noticed in all countries and especially in those where refugee families are resettled in urban areas. In some cases, sponsorship groups experience burdensome financial costs, also related to renting accommodation for prolonged periods of time. The housing problem is aggravated when there are delays in resettling families on time, as accommodation costs become more expensive. In some cases, the matching process of refugee families and sponsorship groups is based on the availability of housing and this can affect the consideration of other socioeconomic factors, like whether refugees come from a rural or urban background.
Financial support for RCOs
Many RCOs consider it necessary to obtain financial support from their national governments to help them run their sponsorship programs and make them sustainable. The structure, expertise, networking and good practices used by RCOs is a valuable asset that can be escalated if financial support is increased by the governments.
Recruitment of volunteers and the role of faith-based organizations
Faith-based organizations have played an essential intermediary role in the sponsorship programs. They provide valuable support in finding accommodation, supporting financial costs and, on some occasions, preparing communities to understand cultural differences. Sponsoring groups tend to consist of individuals beyond retirement age, while members of sponsored families are often younger. Having a more diverse pool of volunteers, including young sponsors and individuals from the same refugee background, may benefit sponsorship programs.
The role of Local Authorities
Most of the countries identified that sponsorship programs have established partnerships with institutional structures at the municipal level to facilitate access for refugees to social services, education and health. The level of support and involvement with the sponsorship programs varies from country to country but, in those cases where local authorities have a direct participation in the administration of the program, resources and infrastructure have developed noticeably well, allowing groups to respond to unforeseen challenges like the disruption caused by the pandemic.
The impact of Private Sponsorship on the host communities
Individuals of the wider community not directly involved in supporting newcomers provided good feedback about the reception of refugees in their locations. Service providers tend to offer better assistance once they understand the goals of community sponsorship programs.
Most of the studies found that the transition from the support provided by sponsorship programs to the integration of refugees into the state’s social welfare and administrative system is challenging. The main difficulties faced by resettled refugees are related with the time it takes in learning a new language and getting the skills needed for a job and the resultant financial independence.
Overall, it is expected that this project will provide relevant findings which will be useful for organizations implementing and operating sponsorship programs in times in which forced displacement seem to be one of the biggest challenges of the century.