QARN members’ thoughts on Community Sponsorship

Thoughts on sponsorship will be added here as they come in – please contact if you have a contribution to add

Comments below from Barbara Forbes, Sheila Mosley, Fred Ashmore, Tim Robertson

Barbara Forbes: Community sponsorship in any form, whether by groups or individuals, plays into the hands of those politicians intent on enabling the government to avoid its legal obligations as signatories of international treaties. This was made abundantly clear in the comments of the new “Minister for Refugees”, Richard Harrington, when he described a particular sponsorship approach for Ukrainians as “a move towards the privatisation of the UK’s resettlement programme”.  (Observer, 13.03.2022).

It is a good and generous thing to wish to offer support and shelter to those seeking sanctuary, and is often done with the best of motives. It is however important to consider the bigger picture and the effect this has on government policy and attitudes. Often, those who are offered such sponsorship are families, who easily generate love and support in the hosting community; most asylum-seekers however are single men, who can be awkward and edgy, but whose needs are just as valid as those of family groups – and sometimes more so, if they are totally on their own. All are traumatised and have sometimes been tortured. However well-meaning people are, there is always a need for access to specialist services which might not be available in smaller communities. People fleeing from war and conflict also need to keep in touch with their own communities in person, and not just via social media – again, not something which is easy in a small community. 

We are enjoined to “welcome the stranger”, and too often this is interpreted absolutely literally without considering other ways in which this might be done – e.g. by advocacy, campaigning, joining a pressure group or support group. There are specialist groups which can match up hosts and guests for short periods of time, but there are also organisations which link up asylum-seekers with longer-term befrienders who offer huge amounts of support while allowing the asylum-seeker to maintain their dignity without the expectation that they will feel grateful. At the same time, the befrienders get a real insight into how asylum-seekers are treated when they are not part of the tiny minority who fall under a government sponsorship scheme. 

QARN exists to work to change the system. That can only be done by approaching political issues head-on. Political action will achieve more than philanthropy and benevolence.

Sheila Mosley: Sabir Zazai speaks my mind when he says: The government must invest in its own compassion, not the public goodwill. 

Fred Ashmore: Sheltering Strangers

I have been surprised by some of the posts on this QARN site criticisng community sponsorship and highlighting the difficulties that arise in private or group support for refugees and asylum seekers.  It is no secret that the government tells lies about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, trying to mask its hostile environment with nonsense about the generous provision of community sponsorship.  Does that make community sponsorship wrong?  It’s there, and it’s likely to remain there.  It provides opportunities for new life for people selected by the UNHCR, and none of us likes the inequality that arises from this.  But suggesting that this has no place because our government has failed to create a system under which everyone can benefit equally is nonsensical.   And to say that political action precludes humanitarian action is equally nonsensical.

The same applies to criticism of the present proposals for private sponsorship (which I would call hosting) of Ukrainians.  Not everyone can benefit and someone will choose, either a government agency or an international one – or the individual or group who offers help.   It harnesses people’s urge for philanthropy and benevolence.   I think that our work should be to help and support this instinct, with those with experience of such work sharing that experience.   That doesn’t mean stopping pressure on the government and our representatives to mitigate the hostile environment by all means possible even while we would so much prefer to see it swept away.

I have also found the harsh language about people’s wish to help most out of tune with my experience as a Quaker.  The objectives of QARN include supporting those acting under concern.  It doesn’t say that the only valid concerns are political and activist ones.  The philanthropic and generous non activist could well understand that their calling is valid and might also  support the concern of the activist for political work, even if it’s not their own.

Let’s go back to basics, Friends.  “I was a stranger and you took me in”  Matthew 25:35, the Final Judgment.  It’s not necessary to look for twenty different ways of interpreting this, nor to elaborate the potential problems.  Faith includes believing that solutions will emerge or be found.  Do what lies before you to the best of your ability.

Tim Robertson: All movements for change need different people to work on different levels to the common goal.

I worked for many years in criminal justice, and reached the conclusion that prisons are ineffective except in reinforcing existing social inequalities. So I greatly respect those (sadly few) penal reformers who refuse to work in prisons and campaign instead to abolish them. But I know my skills and temperament are far better suited to empowering as far as possible at least some of the thousands of people who will be in custody for the foreseeable future. So that’s what I did.

I equally respect those Friends who are working to transform the political and economic systems that mean millions of people become refugees and are then treated appallingly unfairly. In the meanwhile I hope these Friends will respect those of us who make the positive use we can of such means as Community Sponsorship – which cannot change the world on a large scale, but will definitely change the world for some individual families.

All of us share a justified anger about refugee injustice. All of us also know the easiest place to project any anger is on those closest to us.

I hope instead we can be allies who respect and support our varying approaches to the issue, and save our energy for making a real difference to those who oppose our goal and those who need our help. When facing such an immense challenge, the diversity of our strategies is one of the strongest indicators for our ultimate success.

Tim Robertson, Friends House Local Meeting, chair of Friendly Welcome Camden community sponsorship project.