1.1 The clerks of Meeting for Sufferings have agreed to allow this additional item to be brought to the Meeting at short notice. At the end of February Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee (QPSWCC) will be considering a paper of options for possible work to address the refugee crisis. Before then, the clerks of QPSWCC wish to consult Meeting for Sufferings on one very specific proposal, so that QPSWCC can take your response into account when they decide whether to proceed with it. If MfS Representatives are able to take some informal soundings locally, that might be helpful, but this is primarily a process of ‘taking the temperature’ of MfS as a wider and representative body of Friends.
1.2 The Government has stated, in general terms, that it is willing to run a Private Sponsorship scheme for refugees, in which community groups and individuals would agree to provide full support for a refugee, or a refugee family, for their first 12 months in Britain. Some national or regional bodies are registering their serious interest in becoming umbrella bodies who would encourage and support their members to participate in the scheme. The question is should Quakers in Britain take this step towards involvement?
2.1 Quakers have been concerned about the plight of refugees for many years. We were deeply involved in the Kindertransport and other schemes for rescuing and supporting Jews escaping from Nazi Germany, and helped displaced persons during and after World War II. The Quaker concern continues to find effective expression today through the practical and campaigning actions of individual Quakers, many of them members of the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN). Some Meetings are also involved.
2.2 The current heightened numbers of refugees in the world, including large numbers fleeing from war in Syria, and their efforts to find safety in Europe, have led Friends to express their concern through several minutes to Sufferings. Quakers in Britain has made public statements and submissions to government in response to the changing situation, often working with QARN, and continues to address many of the drivers of forced migration, including war and climate change, but has not yet embarked on any substantive project to directly address the needs of those seeking asylum in Britain.
2.3 Britain Yearly Meeting has recently received a request from Citizens UK that BYM join other organisations in supporting refugees through Private Sponsorship. This scheme may provide us with a suitable channel to express our concern, working alongside, for instance, Liberal and Reform Judaism and the Methodist Church, who have already registered their support for the scheme.
3 The proposal
3.1 Citizens UK is working through the National Refugee Welcome Board, a new organisation set up in response to the refugee crisis in Europe in summer 2015. The National Refugee Welcome Board is sometimes known simply as “Refugees Welcome”.
3.2 The National Refugee Welcome Board is setting up a new public register listing people, groups and institutions who have agreed in principle to support refugees in their communities. As this is an in principle decision, we are not being asked for funding or anything else at this point.
3.3 This is in response to the government’s stated willingness to set up a refugee sponsorship scheme similar to that used in Canada. Under such a scheme groups or institutions would be able to apply to the government to bring in a refugee known to them from overseas or to indicate to the government their willingness to take on a referred refugee. In both cases, if successful, the sponsor would then fully support (materially, financially and in other ways) that refugee for 12 months. The government has not yet made a firm decision, and so the National Refugee Welcome Board is gathering names of supportive organisations in order to demonstrate that it is a workable scheme.
4 Private Sponsorship – what it might mean for individual sponsors
4.1 The shape of the scheme is not yet fully negotiated so the following details may change to some degree.
4.2 The National Refugee Welcome Board asks for three essential commitments from every group – which might be a local Meeting – wishing to sign up to be a refugee sponsor, above and beyond desire and commitment to sponsor a refugee.
That the organisation/group has or could raise sufficient funds to provide all the financial and material needs of a refugee or refugee family for 12 months (this would be between £10 & £12K for an individual, between £12-20K for a family, depending on size). Some resources might be provided in kind, reducing the monetary commitment.
A small group within the organisation are prepared to devote sufficient time to go through training and preparation to become a sponsor (at least a couple of days when the hours are added up).
The organisation/group is prepared to provide considerable non-financial support to the sponsored refugee for the 12 months of the sponsorship period (and perhaps beyond). Things like welcoming, orientation, mentoring, befriending.
5 Private Sponsorship – what it might mean for BYM
5.1 We have been invited to register because it is felt that a body with our reputation would strengthen the initiative, and help to demonstrate a willingness in the British public to participate in such a scheme. BYM, if it registers, would not itself sponsor refugees, but would expect to be represented on the National Refugee Welcome Board to play our part in negotiating with the Home Office.
5.2 If the negotiations are successful and we agree the scheme is acceptable to us, we would then be expected to play a role in encouraging and supporting Quakers – particularly Quaker Meetings – to sponsor refugees. We might well act as a broker, receiving offers from Meetings and commending them to the government agency charged with allocating refugees to sponsors. All this would take staff time, of course, and need to be planned and budgeted for. It may be possible to fund extra staff time for this from legacy funding, but this would be decided later.
6 Some arguments in favour
It would enable more refugees to enter the UK. The National Refugee Welcome Board is clear that scheme would only go ahead if the government agreed to the refugees being admitted in addition to present limits. (The government has made and begun to implement a commitment to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees over the next five years. The Gateway scheme re-settles 750 refugees per year from other countries.)
It would give many people a practical way to express their deep concern for the present acute refugee situation.
It would draw more people into relationship with individual refugees, with all the benefits that are likely to flow from that – including deeper cultural and political understanding in the hosts, and speedier assimilation into British society for the refugees. In Canada, sponsorship has hugely increased public sympathy for refugees.
It would counter the ‘politics of hate’, showing that the community is prepared to work together in a substantial way to meet human needs across cultural, national and faith ‘boundaries’. Being welcoming is a mark of civilization.
It would enable family re-unions – sponsors could ask for a specific family member to be admitted, to join someone already here.
7 Some arguments against
The scheme would – at least as currently envisaged by the Home Office – exclude refugees who have already reached Europe. This can be seen as ‘jumping the queue’ and failing to address the many problems developing within the EU, including the Calais refugee camp.
There are many needy – and indeed destitute – refugees already in this country. It would be important not to divert support from them towards this new scheme. That would include trying not to divert Quaker effort.
Similarly, many Friends and others are campaigning against the worrying and harmful changes in legislation and regulations which the government is bringing in. It would be important not to let involvement in the scheme reduce our opposition, whether at local or at national level.
It will be expensive for sponsors. It would be important not to divert giving from other causes whose needs are great. If individual Friends or meetings were to give less to BYM as a result of taking on sponsorship responsibilities, other Quaker work would have to close down.
Some may feel that increasing the number of refugees will inevitably heighten community tensions, especially where there is already a shortage of resources, as there is with affordable housing.
What is wanted at this stage is guidance, to feed in to QPSWCC’s discernment process. Meeting for Sufferings is invited to comment on any aspect, but specifically on the following: Can you envisage local meetings – or other groupings of Quakers – being willing and able to become sponsors?
Would you wish BYM to register in-principle as an umbrella body and contribute to negotiating the scheme with the Home Office?
If so, would you want this to come back to Meeting for Sufferings, perhaps at the stage when the shape of the scheme has been agreed, for approval of the full involvement of Quakers in Britain?
Helen Drewery General Secretary,
Quaker Peace & Social Witness
18 January 2016