To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress of the community sponsorship scheme in supporting resettled refugees in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Sheehan and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.
The Government’s view is that community sponsorship is a success, thanks to the commitment and compassion of community groups directly welcoming and supporting resettled refugees in their communities. Since the scheme began in July 2016, 219 refugees have been resettled by community sponsor groups across the UK, and the number of community groups taking part continues to increase.
My Lords, based on the Canadian experience, allowing community groups to take responsibility for refugees should be an economical, efficient and effective way of integrating refugees into society. Yet, as the Minister said, only 219 refugees have been resettled through this route, despite the Home Office providing £1 million in funding to provide training and support for these community groups. What has gone wrong?
I thought the noble Lord was asking a very fair question until the last moment. I do not think anything has gone wrong; we are seeing a significant acceleration in the number of groups at different stages of the process. Just over 50 groups have gone through the whole community sponsorship process. The work done by Reset and other civil society groups around the country has addressed some of the blocks that meant we got off to a slow start. The application process has been significantly simplified, the training is now available on the Reset website, and groups are starting to share their successes. There are now over 100 groups in the process of application, so we can be confident of seeing a strong increase next year.
My Lords, many people who welcome the idea of community sponsorship have said to me that the scheme in this country is too bureaucratic and that we just cannot get it organised. Is there any way in which the Government could look at this and cut through the red tape so that local people can get on with it and provide the sponsorship support they want to?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. At the risk of repeating myself, there really has been a visible acceleration in the number of groups applying. It was just a handful in the first 18 months or so of the programme, and it is now accelerating quite quickly. A good conversation is going on between community groups. If the noble Lord has specific examples, I am happy to share them with those responsible.
My Lords, it is good to hear that there is now an acceleration in the number of groups applying to be community sponsors, but—as I understand it—community sponsorship is currently available only to refugees who come through the various vulnerable people schemes. At the moment it is not being used as a model for those who apply for asylum in the UK and are successful in being granted refugee status. Can my noble friend outline whether there are any proposals to make sure that this model is used in future for those granted refugee status in the UK? If not, we run the risk of a two-tier system.
My noble friend makes a good point. There are currently no plans to expand this scheme to those granted refugee status through the in-country asylum process. Having spoken to a number of groups working in this area, the line of support offered by community groups is not tightly defined by the refugees’ original status—whether they were resettled or in-country applicants—so a lot of in-country asylum seekers and refugees are receiving support from their local community groups.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of Reset. Thanks to the work of Reset, the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative and others, community sponsorship is now being taken up more rapidly, as the Minister said, and explored in communities across the world. This growth underlines the importance of measuring and learning from the outcomes on sponsored refugees and the sponsoring community. What data does the Government collect? Will they make it public so that community sponsorship can keep growing in number and quality?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question and commend him on his work in this area. The Home Office has commissioned an independent evaluation that is being carried out by the University of Birmingham, which will be published this summer. I can give some early insight from that research, which talks about the,
“ability to count on emotional and practical support from a network of local people”, providing,
“refugees with an excellent source of social capital that is critical to their integration”.
It is obviously crucial that we work in the most intelligent way with those refugees who have been selected for their vulnerability. If the House will indulge me, it would be poignant to listen to a quote from the young Syrian refugee Amineh Abou Kerech—forgive my pronunciation—who won the Betjeman prize for her poem “Lament for Syria”. In it she says:
“Can anyone teach me how to make a homeland?”
Let us hope that all these schemes can do just that.
My Lords, due to their poor English skills, many refugees find great barriers to finding jobs, getting housing and opening bank accounts, yet over the past 10 years, services providing English language teaching to speakers of other languages have been cut by 55%. What plans do the Government have properly to resource English language teaching and make it available to all those who need it?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. The Government recently published the Integrated Communities Action Plan, which specifically cites working with government and civil society organisations in areas such as English as a second language, employment, mental health and other elements critical for integration.