Fishguard (Wales), United Kingdom

Croeso Abergwaun, Welcome Fishguard

Croeso Abergwaun, Welcome Fishguard

October 30, 2017

A global refugee sponsorship initiative finds a home in Wales

“I can’t solve the whole Syrian crisis, but I can do something, for a few people.” The words of Olwen Thomas, from the port of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, sum up the feelings of many people around the world.

Traditional refugee resettlement in the UK has left many refugee families isolated and struggling to adapt to their new surroundings, according to Chris Clements, a director of Social Finance UK. This lack of integration means higher rates of unemployment, depression, stress, and other problems.  So, the UK, along with five other countries, is adopting a new approach.

Building a new approach

Last year, Open Society Foundations began working with the Canadian government, the UNHCR, the University of Ottawa, and the Radcliffe Foundation on a Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI).  The project is spreading the word about the Canadian private and community refugee sponsorship model. It supports countries and civil society organizations interested in adopting community sponsorship models in new jurisdictions around the world.

In Wales, Thomas, and other members of her community created the Welcome Fishguard Commuity Sponsorship Group. Theirs was one of the first to respond to a UK scheme first announced in July 2016 by the British Home Affairs Minister Amber Rudd and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Under this new UK Community Sponsorship program, local groups agree to sponsor refugee families and help them integrate into life in the UK. They help their new families find housing, access medical and social services, arrange English language tuition, and support them with employment, leading to self-sufficiency.

Community sponsorship, Clements says, “enables local people to take responsibility for resettling a refugee family, supporting and empowering them to rebuild their lives.” Canada’s record shows how it has “improved outcomes for refugees and made communities more welcoming.”

Replicating what works around the world

The Community Sponsorship model is partly inspired by Canada’s success. In 1979, the mayor of Ottawa, Marion Dewar, mobilized an effort by community groups to settle 4,000 mostly Southeast Asian refugees. Since then, Canadians have resettled almost 300,000 refugees through private sponsorship programs.

As the UK effort gathered momentum in Summer 2017, GRSI and UK partners went on a weeklong “road show” – a tour of six cities in England and Wales. Roadshow participants included Canadian and UK ministers, government officials, city mayors, civil society leaders, and refugee sponsors, each of whom shared their experiences at a series of open houses that drew hundreds of representatives from interested churches and local groups.

According to the Global Refugees Sponsorship Initiative, in addition to the five countries committed to adopting the private sponsorship model, almost 15 others have expressed an interest.

Local impact and organizing

In Wales there are 13 community groups already sponsoring or looking to sponsor families across Wales. Under the umbrella of Hiraeth Hope, Fishguard residents have worked with others in Haverfordwest and Narbeth to sponsor Syrian refugee families in west Wales. Groups also formed in Cardigan, Aberystwyth and Cardiff.  Hiraeth Hope was established in 2015 to connect a network of groups in different towns in Wales who were seeking to sponsor refugee families under the community settlement program. They say that being inclusive and generous is part of Welsh culture: “the Welsh language word for ‘Welsh’ is ‘Cymro’, which translates as ‘one of us’. Aberystwyth was the first town to take Syrian refugees, as a result of the efforts of a community group, so living up to the heritage of inclusiveness.”

Under the Home Office program, communities are expected to raise £9,000 to support refugee integration. Fishguard’s initial goal was to sponsor three Syrian families (PDF). Initial success came quickly: “Once we felt confident we were likely to get the go ahead, we began serious fund raising to  cover the expenses of resettling families: to date £8000+ has been donated by our community,  plus many offers of goods and free services – plenty, we estimate, to cover the first family and  maybe more.”

Fishguard organizers said they were “’taken aback’ by the response of locals who continue to come forward with ‘countless offers’ of furniture. ‘People have been extremely generous and we have a solid groundswell of support from within the local community,’” said spokesperson Olwen Thomas.

The response in Fishguard is similar to the experience in many Canadian communities. If resistance exists in the community, it is mild. For the most part, the community comes together, before and after sponsored families arrive.

Their efforts paid off. A year after Croeso Abergwaun, the Welcome Fishguard Community Sponsorship Group, starting making plans the first Syrian family arrived. The community has welcomed them and has spent Summer of 2017 helping with language and orienting them to the community: “Unfazed by our mixed bag of weather, the family have explored the area and are happy using buses to go further afield. Thanks to the kindness of folks within our community, the children have been learning to swim, the family have been out on a boat trip, attended a wedding, watched fireworks above the bay, and been invited to many local events.” Croeso Abergwaun has begun looking into work opportunities for Nasr, the family breadwinner.

According to Chris Samra of Croeso Abergwaun, “the people of Fishguard and Goodwick have shown overwhelming generosity… Hopefully we will provide this first family with all the tools they need to integrate into the local community.” They are hoping to sponsor two additional Syrian families near future. “After all, Samra says, “there are 30 different nationalities in Fishguard – we had no idea the town was so cosmopolitan.” As new Syrian families arrive, Fishguard is being enriched even more.

With notes from “A Message from Wales on Refugees: “People Are Very Keen to Help”” by Gregory Maniatis. In Open Society Foundations Voices, originally published July 14, 2017.

Making it Work for You:

  • Be excited. Becoming a sponsor can be one of the most rewarding ways of providing direct help to refugees.
  • Be committed. Sponsorship of a family would be a big commitment for one group to undertake. It might be undertaken by more than one group working in partnership and sharing the responsibilities between them.
  • Be prepared. The main responsibility and motivation of community sponsors is to provide a warm and personal welcome to the refugee family they are sponsoring. Refer to the Community Sponsorship Guide for guidance.

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For this Good Idea contact:

Chris Samra, Croeso Abergwaun, Hiraeth Hope
Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, Wales SA65