Fr Dominic Howarth, who heads the Vicariate for Youth Ministry and Pastoral Care and is part of Caritas Brentwood, writes:
As the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan fills the news, adding to the miseries of those who have fled Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea in recent years, it may well be that parishioners ask “what can we do?”.
Since late 2019 Caritas Brentwood has helped to support a very dedicated group of parishioners from Chelmsford and Springfield, as they formed a Community Sponsorship Group. In February of this year this group quietly welcomed a family of two adults and two children. The family are originally from Syria, and after fleeing the rubble there, they were placed in refugee camp in the Lebanon. They were assessed by UNHCR, and welcomed via the Home Office Community Sponsorship scheme. You can see from the 18-month timeline prior to arrival that it is not a ‘quick fix’. Nor can it be, as any family arriving needs support with housing, education, health care, integration (including understanding of currency, local services, shopping and public transport in the UK), IT, furniture, various elements of bureaucracy, and (usually) language. So there are careful steps to forming a group, fundraising, securing housing, and then forming a wider group of volunteers as the arrival date draws nearer. There is a minimum 24-month commitment after the family arrive. All of this is to make sure that anyone arriving has the ‘wrap-around’ support they need and deserve.
There is now a wealth of experience within the Diocese to support any parish (or, more realistically, as part of the scheme requirement is to fundraise £9,000, group of parishes) who wishes to look into this more deeply. I would be happy to help, and have the Chelmsford application as a template. The section of the Home Office that deals with this (known as ‘Reset’) is also immensely supportive, with excellent briefings and training, and, via CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network) nationally, there are further networks and resources to draw from.
In Redbridge and in Colchester Catholics have been part of ecumenical projects that have welcomed families. It would also be an ideal project for an embryonic parish partnership to look into.
A very helpful summary is on the Reset website: https://resetuk.org/about/what-is-community-sponsorship
There is also excellent initial information on the CSAN website. Salford Diocese were the first to welcome a family via Community Sponsorship, and their learning has been a huge help. https://www.csan.org.uk/community-sponsorship/
More detailed initial information is in the Home Office’s own ‘step by step’ guide: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/694789/MiniGuide_16th_June.pdf. Caritas Brentwood is recognised as a ‘Lead Sponsor’ which will eliminate some of the hurdles.
Another source of support is Citizens UK who have a dedicated website for this aspect of their work: https://www.sponsorrefugees.org/
The Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford (through agency Essex Integration) works with Essex County Council to help resettle refugees, so this is also an ideal ecumenical project – the Anglicans have experience of resettling many families.
It is a serious commitment; I would estimate that between them the Chelmsford/Springfield group have spent up to 70 hours/week on this, certainly in the weeks leading up to arrival, and in the five months the family have been here. Split between 20 or so volunteers that is manageable, but it is not a task to take on lightly. That said, it is clearly life-transforming for the family, and it is utterly beautiful to see the children happy and settled at school, the parents becoming ever more at ease in their surroundings, and the joy that it gives to the volunteers, too, as a powerful expression of living faith.