Responses to the QPSW paper about sponsorship below:

qarn logo sm Updated 1 February 2016: Quakers have been asked to consider the QPSW paper regarding sponsorship of refugees, which will be before Meeting for Sufferings on Saturday 6 February 2015.  

Below are comments of some Quakers connected with QARN, reprinted with permission  – the original paper is here – http://www.qarn.org.uk/homepage/quaker-peace-and-social-witness-private-sponsorship-of-refugees. Quakers should discuss their thoughts with their own Meeting for Sufferings representative

Posted 31 January 2016 – this post will be updated as thoughts come in:

Tommy Gee: To be “taken on”or “taken in”?

The proposal in  Para 3.3  of the memo  “Refugee Sponsorship”echoing  the successful Canadian scheme would require a  Trudeau at the helm. Here the Government desire to be in control and what that implies needs close examination as the reality is reflected in immigration detention centres, the use of unfit contractors, punitive restrictions, withdrawal of benefits and  net migration targets.
So any scheme must as far as possible be independent of government, with explicit delegated powers. Cooperating organizations with different objectives will complicate  and delay what is urgent.
The suggested financial arrangements for sponsorship or “taking on”  rather than “taking in” a refugee appear to be  a tax on compassion.
There are lessons in the success of Kindertransport. A K2 scheme should be based on the marginal cost of taking children into welcoming homes able to meet any extra expenditure  The refugee children should enjoy the same rights and benefits as our own children.
Government should not be let off the hook. As in Canada it should be asked take on half of the refugees and not to use unsuitable private contractors.
The immediate priority must be unaccompanied children e.g. Those who have reached Calais avoiding any delay by security and documentation , and unaccompanied children from camps in Lebanon.
A national register would be very useful .
Members of the EU should be asked to cooperate and be kept informed success will require diplomacy  not band standing.

Sheila Mosley:  I would not support a sponsorship scheme:

• The Government acts on behalf of the people and spends our money – that money should be made available for supporting refugees in UK on our behalf because we have a collective responsibility. 
• When individuals become involved financially in this way, around one particular person, the relationship between the sponsor and refugee often creates a sense of feeling beholden, and is distorted. We can show support and create a welcoming environment to all those seeking sanctuary through City of Sanctuary for example.

• Sponsorship does create a hierarchy of deserving/not deserving, real/fake asylum seekers, or to benefit one group over another which is divisive.

Sarah Dodgson:

Setting up a scheme that was trusted both by Government and by existing migrant communities might release hitherto reluctant private as well as public funding to work in tandem. At present they seem to be pulling against one another in distrust, at least from what I see here in London. I don’t think this is a question of politics or ideology, more a question of which is sustainable and whether there is an endgame to release us from the obligations we would undertake. I was in 1974 still contributing to the support of a Hungarian refugee child sponsored by my school in 1956.

We need to think very long term in this. Which solution will enable most to be done most effectively? If Quakers can be involved in something where warm hearts and cool brains come together without other agendas, to work simply for the immediate need of the children caught up in this, then a “private” faith based scheme could work. But not at the expense of existing work supporting the government sponsored groups of refugees through the welcoming schemes. I think we have the energy to do both, so long as we think on a sustainable scale and don’t get frightened by the huge numbers, whom we will never be able to help. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness Friends.

Stewart and Elizabeth Bailey:
Sheila speaks our minds too. May we add the following:-
In Oldham, we are receiving an increased number of Syrians (and Sudanese and Eritreans) who are seeking asylum. While they are waiting for a decision, they are being placed, by Serco, in the relatively cheap housing that can be found in Oldham and surrounding area. So compared with more affluent towns of a similar size we are being overused by Serco.
The Oldham Unity Destitution Project is finding that as well as supporting those who are destitute because their claim for asylum has been rejected, we are increasingly helping those who are temporary destitute i.e. those who have been dispersed to Oldham without their NASS support following them; and those who have been given leave to stay who cannot readily access other kinds of support.
We are sure that this situation is replicated in other similar towns, so there are already plenty of opportunities for Friends to support asylum seekers and refugees.
Our Local Authority, amongst others, is already looking at what support might be needed if Syrian refugee children are placed here. There might be opportunities for Friends to offer accommodation and support that should go alongside any such placements.

We are still pondering –

  • Are Friends generally aware of how much support, not just financial and social, but specialised psychological support individuals might need? A significant number of our users are on the waiting list for sessions from Freedom from Torture
  • There are so many areas of need that could do with concerned Quaker involvement now – e.g. the Boaz Trust in Manchester has a waiting list of asylum seekers that need to be hosted. including some that are having to sleep rough. Their winter Night Shelter Scheme, in which local Friends participate, can only take twelve men. There is no such provision for women.

Pete Redwood: 

My sentiments as well Sheila. I have first hand experience of this. Somebody who became a refugee, and was given leave to remain in this country on the condition that she “had no recourse to public funds.” She has no income, past retirement age so no means of obtaining any and is now totally beholden to her family for every single thing she needs. It is placing a considerable strain on the family but any state help has been barred. This seems to be what this government now wants for all refugees!
Barbara Forbes:
I am against private sponsorship for the following reasons:
1. It represents a dereliction of duty on the part of the government. It is the government’s responsibility to accept asylum-seekers and make sure that their case is heard fairly and that they are granted refugee status on the basis of their case, not on the basis of a lottery where they are being “sponsored” by an individual. There is a political right to asylum, enshrined in the conventions and in international law. This should not be blurred by private initiatives.
2. It represents an increasing reliance on and exploitation of the goodwill of people who are often only party informed about what they are getting themselves into.  How long would such a “private sponsorship” last? Who would step in if there were problems, or if the situation of the sponsor changed?
3. The relationship between the sponsor and the sponsored asylum-seeker would by its nature be unequal and could lead to resentment and the feeling of forced gratitude.
4. Friends will no doubt gush sentimentally about the Kindertransport, but they need to realise that times have changed. At the time of the Kindertransport there were not already thousands of destitute asylum-seekers in the country as there are now. A private sponsorship scheme would ignore those who are already suffering under our system and would contribute to a hierarchy in which those who are noticed by the media are regarded more sympathetically than those who are here already – witness a current petition to Portsmouth University to offer scholarships to Syrian refugees (and only Syrians.)
Anthony Wilson:

Of course there are echoes of the pre-War efforts to enable Jews to leave Germany; if I’m right, the sponsorship figure then was BP5K, much higher than the figures quoted now. I assume that many Jewish families participated. At that time, there was no Convention giving rights to asylum, and government policy was to exclude.

The For and Against paragraphs are helpful. They are not explicit about our government’s policy of deterring asylum seekers seeking refugee status, including no provision for claims in the country of persecution, and the culture of disbelief which all applicants experience once they reach the UK. Unless there is a strong political and legal commitment to maximising the govt. response to obligations under the Convention, there must be a real fear that this scheme could be used to exclude those would-be refugees who are not sponsored.

Assuming that those sponsored hold refugee status, they would have the right to work and access to eg. NHS and education services.

The Welcome scheme would indeed demonstate the extent of public support for refugees, but this would be on selective basis: those benefitting could tend towards those with professional skills, not necessarily those in greatest need to protection. Friends would be in good company with Citizens UK, the Methodists and others.

Excluding those already within the EU detracts from the common approach by EU governments which would point to a resolution of the current numbers situation/crisis.

As the paper points out, the focus of many Friends and meetings is on people who are already here without the benefits of refugee status, and this scheme does not address their needs. The sensible description of what would be involved in sponsorship can already be applied to a relationship between a meeting and an asylum seeker, with the added dimension of the personal insecurity which is the daily experience of the asylum seeker who has no right to work, limited access to health care and education, no secure accommodation etc.

So I think my starting point would be to welcome the opportunity to sponsor alongside these other bodies, and take an active part in negotiations with the government drawing on our experience of meeting needs. However, Friends and meetings do not need to await the outcome of this scheme before working with asylum seekers already here.

It is good that MfS is giving this such urgent attention, and we will welcome the insights which the meeting in session will engage with. It could well be right that no definitive response should emerge at this early stage, while we engage seriously with colleagues who are addressing the same opportunity and issues as ourselves. 

In peace

Crystal Dickinson:

It would be strange for Quakers not to be seen to be leaders in this field. Insofar as our work carries weight far beyond what our numbers would suggest
we are often looked to for moral leadership in public issues. If, for whatever reason, we are seen to be doing nothing, then, I believe, many others will feel excused from unwelcome moral exertions also – and who will be the losers from that?

The whole question comes down to the contrasting mindsets underlying politics.

This Conservative Government has a very explicit view that the fewer Asylum Seekers come here the better. On the other hand, it does believe in personal responsibility and private enterprise,including private charity. Therefore it will allow additional privately sponsored asylum seekers, provided they are no charge on the public purse. So Government has set not-unrealistic figures on the costs of private sponsorship. With such a mindset, I believe the proposals would involve acting in a way which is entirely just and fair, “according to their lights”. (Perhaps even generous, since they had the power to set a higher figure….)

Any socialist view says “on the contrary, as taxpayers we have real rights to decide how our taxes are spent, and this humanitarian cause is one way in which we want them spent – as many asylum seekers as possible should be allowed in and funded out of our public purse.” Logically, to do this will divert resources from other needs; therefore if this is to be funded out of public monies, designated additional taxes will have to be raised for it; (though everyone knows that public finance is not quite as simple as that!) What are the chances of getting such a Bill into law, and how long will it take even if passed?

Because the need is urgent, and because it realistic to assume that we are stuck with a Conservative Government until at least 2020, pragmatism suggests to me that we should go along the “private” route; on the strictly provisional basis that this must undergo an urgent,radical review on the committment of Quakers to it, following the next General Election

Frankly, if we do take the “private” route, I expect to be disapointed by the paucity of response; I do not expect many Area Meetings to be likely to agree to sponsor more than a single family each -£20k additional to all other AM expenditures is a lot to ask! And I share the view that individual sponsorships are of their very nature non-egalitarian; but – so, too, is throwing too few lifebelts into the water where a boat full of people has overturned. Umm,….could it possibly be better to withold all lifebelts until enough can be sourced? I don’t think so!

Rosemary Crawley:
As a member of QARN and present when this was discussed at the QARN general meeting on 9 January I can say that feelings about private sponsorship were mixed. However QARN did decide to send a representative to Citizens UK, the organisation that is promoting the scheme in order to be in a position to influence the negotiations.
From my personal point of view I have grave reservations about this idea. Private sponsorship (except in very specific circumstances such as the Kindertransport) has the potential to create hierarchies of refugees and indeed that is already happening to some extent now where popular interest focuses around Syrians. It can also create huge indebtedness on the part of those sponsored, possibly extending over a prolonged period of time. If local meetings were raising the vast sums needed for private sponsorship there would be little if anything left over for those who did not qualify.
In friendship