SIR – Our hearts and minds have gone out to the Syrian refugees and others who have been forced to flee for their lives from war and persecution. We have sent money to support their continued existence in the neighbouring countries which have provided haven. Now there is a way to help a few more directly and personally via the Community Sponsorship Scheme.
Those families chosen have already been granted refugee status in the countries that they have fled to, assessed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Irish State officials. Ireland has pledged to take in 1,200 people, including children. Their status means that they are ready to fully enter life here, unlike asylum-seekers in direct provision who must wait for their refugee status to be processed.
The programme is backed by a collaboration between government, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, NGOs and civil society. It offers a personalised face of welcome and integration.
This movement started in Canada in the ’70s where it is very successful and it has shown that community sponsored refugees tend to settle more positively and fit in more easily. Since Canada began over 40 years ago they have resettled 300,000.
Sponsor communities commit to provide social and emotional support over a specific period of time, to source suitable housing, learn the language, enrol in schools, etc. Communities gain a broader awareness of refugee-related issues and intercultural issues.
It has been often found that both sponsors and refugees have a life-changing experience, bringing communities together to share enriching experiences. On YouTube, a short video called Community Sponsorship UK, made in Fishguard, Wales, gives an example of the benefits the townspeople received. Full information from the government can be found on www.irishrefugeecouncil.ie/integration-work-programmes/community-sponsorship-programme or by typing in Community Sponsorship Programme.
Wicklow has already sponsored a family! For this to take off, a group of like-minded people in the community needs to form an action group to make the sponsorship happen. They do not have to be professionals. Existing community groups, faith / churches, businesses could be involved.
Other caring people playing whatever size of a role they choose would also take part. Guidance and support is offered by a regional support organisation which also assists with the planning.
This is an area of small towns which could each take in just one family if the will is there. Amnesty International is strongly supportive of this new initiative, but the good that it can provide needs to come from a community working together.