Damian Jackson from the Irish Council of Churches (ICC) co-led CTBI’s visit to refugee projects in Lampedusa and Sicily last year. He has written about Ireland’s upcoming community sponsorship scheme over on the ICC blog.
“A couple of months ago, I and a group of church representatives working on these issues, spoke via Skype with some people from Canada who have sponsored a family of refugees from Syria … The light that shone from their eyes showed their passion and enthusiasm so clearly.
“They and the community have been greatly enriched in the process. It inspired all of us listening to them. They repeatedly expressed the whole experience had strengthened the ties in their community, bringing people together and fostering new friendships and connections.”
Last year the Irish government announced its intention to support a similar community sponsorship scheme in Ireland.
“It has been in discussions with the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative and the Canadian government and has since been in dialogue with civil society organisations including the UNHCR and the Irish Refugee Council to discuss the design and operation of the proposed scheme.
“The Irish Council of Churches has met with those organisations and the Department of Justice to provide input from the churches and has acted as a communications channel for the churches to discuss matters around migration and asylum.”
The Irish scheme will allow a group of people from a particular area to take on some responsibility for welcoming and facilitating the integration of a family or group of refugees who are identified as in need of resettlement by the UNHCR.
Rather than undertake long, dangerous journeys – often across the Mediterranean – the refugees will have safe passage, transported directly from refugee camps to Ireland.
Damian explains that “community sponsorship also provides effective integration as there is a personal, relational aspect to it once the refugees arrive. Canada has had such a scheme for more than 40 years and about half of the refugees resettled in Canada go through that scheme.”
Ireland’s scheme is due to be launched later this summer and is likely to involve:
- the sponsorship group identify accommodation for the refugees and raise money to fund initial expenses;
- the refugees will have access to all the normal sources of social welfare including HAP towards rent payments;
- the sponsorship group befriend, accompany and be a point of contact for the refugee family for an initial 18 month period.
“It is hoped that, in the light of the biblical imperatives to care for the alien and the stranger, and a recognition of the injustice and suffering that are caused when people are forced from their homes by war or persecution, Christians in Ireland will be moved to respond in kindness.”
Damian notes that “people often feel helpless in the face of such huge issues [as the crisis of displacement]” but sees that the community sponsorship scheme “will offer a way for ordinary people to respond in a tangible way that also brings great benefits to the community.”
He finishes, saying: “Of course, each family sponsored is only a tiny drop in a ocean of need, but it’s of unmeasurable importance to the family concerned.”
Contact Damian at the Irish Council of Churches if you’d like to find out more.