The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is a lack of clear access to digital resources, language barriers and adequate welfare support for refugees who were part of the Community Sponsorship Program (CSS) of the UK, according to a new report from the University of Birmingham.
As part of ongoing research conducted by the University of Birmingham’s Superdiversity Research Institute (IRiS), the study concluded that with the advent of the pandemic and the introduction of social distancing and From the lockdown in March 2020, community sponsorship groups were challenged to offer alternative support to refugees in new ways. As the pandemic emerged and evolved, volunteers, the majority of whom are retired or semi-retired, realized that many refugees faced language barriers or were unable to access information. digitally. With some volunteers and refugees needing to protect themselves and many services moving to remote delivery, these groups faced a very different situation than they had anticipated.
The study also revealed how the mental health of many refugees had deteriorated as expected during the pandemic, but it was more difficult for the refugees as they were already experiencing psychological problems associated with experiences of conflict, loss and death. isolation, as the lockdown was overwhelming for refugees already struggling with trauma.
Some local groups tried to offer support such as introducing refugees to activities such as gardening and bird watching to help their well-being, but these resources were not available to all.
Dr Marisol Reyes-Soto, University of Birmingham research co-author says: “The pandemic came at a difficult time for the refugees who were part of the community sponsorship program. Our research highlighted the issues that persisted, but we created a toolkit for both community groups. and refugees which provides resources for signage and concrete examples of how digital tools and welfare support can be obtained. Putting these tools in place is essential for refugees who have often experienced trauma and will not be left on their own when they are trying to settle into their new communities.
Having already undertaken an independent evaluation of the UK’s community sponsorship program, the IRiS community sponsorship research team identified a lack of knowledge in the strategies adopted to meet the needs of refugees in pandemic conditions. . The team reached out to community sponsorship groups that are currently supporting at least one refugee family to explore the challenges they face and how they overcame those challenges. Some 21 groups agreed to be interviewed, each appointing a representative including 17 women and 4 men. Seven groups were located in urban areas, eight in semi-urban areas and six in rural areas. Eleven of the groups could be characterized as denominational and ten as lay. The majority of the groups questioned received their families between 2019 and 2021.
Jenny Phillimore, professor of migration and superdiversity at the University of Birmingham, said: “The pandemic challenged CS volunteers in unexpected ways. Providing remote support, when it was designed to be in person and try to ensure the health and well-being of refugees and volunteers, was extremely difficult. Most groups have found a way forward and we believe their innovations continue to be useful under the current circumstances. We hope that the toolkit will help share lessons from the pandemic and help new groups and those in rural areas in particular to provide support to refugees. “
CSS was introduced in the UK in July 2016 to enable community groups to support the resettlement of refugee families. The community sponsorship approach relies heavily on providing face-to-face support to enable refugees to settle, thrive and integrate in the UK. Such support is provided by volunteers, but with the advent of the pandemic and the introduction of social distancing and lockdown measures in March 2020, community sponsorship groups have been challenged to offer support to refugees. in new ways. With a few volunteers and refugees in need of protection and many services shifted to remote delivery, the groups faced a very different situation than they anticipated.
The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged community sponsorship in the same way it has challenged all aspects of life around the world. There was a temporary suspension of new arrivals and groups had to adapt the way they supported families already in the UK. Resettlement resumed in February 2021 as families started to arrive again. A new chapter in community sponsorship began in early 2021 with the launch of the UK Resettlement Scheme. Initially, the program should focus on resettling those in the Middle East and North Africa region who are waiting the longest for resettlement places, but over time it will develop a broader global reach in order to be able to respond quickly to urgent resettlement needs.
The initiative was inspired by the Canadian private sponsorship program and was the second of its kind in the world. Since its inception, others have emerged elsewhere, including variations of the model in Ireland, Italy, France, Portugal and Germany.
To view the full report “Community Sponsorship Program: Supporting Refugees and Volunteers During the Covid-19 Pandemic,” click on the link.
Toolkit with resources to use during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
Consult the three Community Sponsorship Program evaluation reports:
Full CSS Report
Refugee outlook report
Wider impact report
Notes to Editors:
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To view the full report “Community Sponsorship Program: Supporting Refugees and Volunteers During the Covid-19 Pandemic” – Jenny Phillimore and Marisol Reyes, click on the link.
The Superdiversity Research Institute (IRiS) works to advance and promote the University’s expertise in the emerging field of superdiversity. It is the first institute in the UK and one of the first in the world to focus on superdiversity. IRiS focuses on some of the most important social issues of our time and is at the forefront of new ways of thinking that have helped influence public policy and impact service delivery with supportive models more efficient.