Meet Anais: How community sponsorship supports refugees locally

Date Published: 18 Jun 2024
Head and shoulders photograph of person smiling at camera

As Refugee Week continues, we meet Anais who leads our community sponsorship work at Caritas and says we shouldn’t underestimate our capacity to make an impact in someone’s life and make them feel welcome…


Anais, can you please tell us a bit about what your role involves? 

In a nutshell, I support motivated volunteers to welcome a refugee family in their community through the Government’s Community Sponsorship scheme.  

The volunteers benefit from support and guidance of a registered charity like ours to bring a refugee family to the UK. The family is selected by the United Nations and the UK government based on their vulnerability. My role involves guiding the volunteer through the process of forming a group and dividing roles, liaising with local authorities and generally guiding them step by step through all the administrative hoops. I also deliver training to make sure that volunteers are confident in their roles. 

Then, once the family arrives in the UK we help the volunteers by providing advice and navigating difficult conversations throughout the first year in particular but also the second year. A lot of that support aims to help the family become independent rather than doing everything on their behalf. We also liaise with the family once they arrive to ensure that all is well and to carry out monitoring and evaluation.  

Why is community sponsorship so important? 

For people fleeing war, conflict and persecution, there are very few ways to come to the UK legally.

Community Sponsorship is one the few resettlement schemes which means that people with the hope of creating a better life don’t have to risk their lives or go through the hands of traffickers to reach the UK. Furthermore, it is a community-led project, which means that people who have undergone an unimaginable amount of hardship are welcomed and supported by a community that embraces them, that is key to healing. They don’t have to navigate everything on their own.  From the volunteers’ perspective, they are able to create a lifelong impactful change in a family’s life and also create a stronger community feel by working together towards a common goal. 

What do you wish people knew or better understood about refugees? 

There are a lot of myths, misconceptions and judgement towards refugees. I wish people would see refugees as simply people. They are people who share a common experience of fleeing persecutions. I wish more people knew that being a refugee means having a legal status recognised and granted by a government. It means that this person has been persecuted as defined legally by binding international convention. This convention is signed by the UK and many other countries.  

So in a nutshell refugees are people who benefit from international protection because they own countries won’t provide it. 

If people want to help refugees to settle in the UK, how do you help support them to do that? 

There are many ways to help people settle. You can start a community sponsorship group, or volunteer in one that already exist in your community. Contact us or Reset to find out more about it.  

You can also fundraise and volunteer for charities like Caritas. And treat refugees like members of your community. You are they key to them feeling welcome!    

Is it a long process? 

To be honest yes, it can take up to a year to prepare everything to welcome a family. Then there is a year of in-depth support followed by a year of a more hands off type of support. But it’s important to remember that you do not have to be involved for the entire duration of the scheme. You can always get involved in one aspect for however long you can. For example, you might decide to help an already existing group fundraise by doing a quiz in your local community hall. 

What’s the best part of your role? 

Without a doubt, airport arrival. I usually support the group to welcome the family at the airport. This is usually the culmination of a year of work for the group and years of waiting for the families. It is often an emotional moment for the volunteers, and I feel privileged to witness the result of such hard work by our volunteers.   

What difference does community sponsorship make?  

Undeniably, community sponsorship creates a lifelong impact on the family. Many families resettled have been selected because of extra vulnerability criteria such as health or gender. For example, some families were able to access medical support that would have been impossible previously. We have seen people access, for the first-time, specialised support for their children who had autism, or prosthetics for children with severed limbs due to war injuries.

But it’s not only the immediate access to medical care that makes the most difference, it’s the life-long impact in terms of opportunities, especially for the children. Many children and teenagers that arrive through Community Sponsorship have not been to school in years or in some cases ever. Being here mean that they can live their childhood and have aspirations for the future.  

But people always underestimate the positive impact this has on the welcoming communities too. Most of our volunteers are retired and want to stay active and this is a great opportunity for them to make an impact in their community.

Many say they were changed for the better after welcoming a family, it brought them closer to other volunteers but also made them feel that they had created a lasting impact in someone’s life. Many felt that their eyes were open to inequalities in the UK and abroad, their empathy grew. It’s easy to feel powerless when we watch the news but many of our volunteers say that they realised they could do something and did it.   

What would you say to people considering helping refugees in their area? 

I would encourage everyone to not be scared to take the first step. Start small and local, but above all do not underestimate your capacity to make an impact in someone’s life and making them feel welcome. Charities like ours always need volunteers and supporters.  

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