The Home Office has appealed to churches to help integrate refugees, as it tries to meet a target of accepting 20,000 Syrians.
The Full Community Sponsorship scheme, launched last July, allows community groups to take responsibility for a refugee’s housing and basic needs, and help them gain necessary skills.
But since the scheme was launched in July, just two groups – a parish in Greater Manchester, and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence – have come forward to sponsor a refugee family.
The Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill MP, told the Catholic Herald the scheme was a response to the “wave of compassion” from the British public at the plight of Syrian refugees. The Home Office is hoping more churches and other community groups will take up the challenge.
Volunteers, whether individual or collective, can sign up on a special goverment website. Local residents can put themselves forward to offer a self-contained property for at least 12 months (for which rent can be paid through housing benefit), career coaching, and basic items such as clothes and electrical goods.
Volunteers can also provide services such as transport, running errands, English lessons, and fostering children.
Nine local authorities are involved with the pilot scheme; in other places, offers of help go through the Home Office.
In September 2015, David Cameron pledged that the government would accept 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. The National Audit Office estimated that this could cost almost £2 billion. As of September 2016, 4,162 had arrived.
The sponsorship scheme is based on a similar project in Canada, which Goodwill said had successfully integrated thousands of refugees.
Goodwill said that a large church, or two parishes joining forces, could take on the responsibility of housing and supporting a refugee. The sponsoring organisation must be registered as a charity or community interest company, and have a comprehensive plan approved by the local authority.
In July, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, welcomed a family to live in a cottage in the grounds of his official residence, Lambeth Palace.
The other community to have joined the scheme is the parish of St Monica’s, Flixton, in Greater Manchester. Parishioners became involved through the Salford branch of the Catholic charity Caritas, who invited local churches to join the scheme.
Mark Wiggin, chief executive of Caritas Salford, said there had been an “amazing” response to the arrival of the Syrian family. Parishioners from St Monica’s met the family at the airport and have since set up working groups to help with education, training, language lessons, health, job applications and housing. A local housing association offered a home for the new arrivals.
Wiggin said the “big challenge” would be helping the family to achieve independence.
He added: “What’s been fantastic from the parish is a real expression of their values.”
Wiggin said he would recommend the scheme to other community groups and parishes. “Don’t be afraid of what can seem a mammoth task,” he said. “It’s not as hard as you think, and the rewards can be fantastic.”