COMMUNITY SPONSORSHIP IN CARDIFF, AN EXAMPLE OF A SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE CITY AND CIVIL SOCIETY
Since 2016 sponsored refugees have made a new life in the City of Cardiff, Wales (UK). This provides a good example of how community sponsorship can promote fruitful partnerships between the city and civil society groups and facilitate citizenship engagement. This has been made possible by the heartfelt commitment of Cardiff local authorities and in particular the personal leadership and sustained commitment of Councillor Susan Elsmore.
“… it's not about numbers, it's about good will, it's about community spirit, it's about humanitarianism, it's about that collective effort, it is where I see wonderful added value.”
Partnerships with cities and regions are crucial for the longer-term development of community sponsorships. To seek on how these partnerships are developing and functioning on the ground, the SHARE Quality Sponsorship Network, interviewed Cardiff City Councillor Susan Elsmore. Responsible for Social Care, Health and Wellbeing since 2014, she talked about her engagement in developing community sponsorship in her city and her support to sponsoring groups to successfully welcome refugees in the municipality. We talked about the opportunities and challenges faced to get community sponsorship off the ground in her region, identifying some lessons learned, but also what has made it a success.
Engagement in community sponsorships started in 2014, when Citizens Cymru Wales, a local chapter of SHARE partner Citizens UK, ran a welcome campaign asking Cardiff City Council to support the resettlement of 50 Syrian refugees. While Cardiff has been an established asylum dispersal area since many years, it had not yet taken part in the government-led UK resettlement scheme. In May 2016, alongside agreed local authority-led resettlement, Cllr Elsmore has granted consent for Citizens UK’s member groups in Cardiff to resettle Syrian families through community sponsorship thus leading Cardiff to receive refugees under both programs.
THE NEED FOR LOCAL AUTHORITY APPROVAL: A CONSTRAINT BUT A GUARANTEE IN THE LONG TERM
The UK is the only country in Europe where local authorities, here County councils, must explicitly consent to receive refugees under resettlement and community sponsorship. When sponsoring groups send their application to the UK government, they must include the consent of their County Council. This process ensures the political buy-in that is needed in a generally hostile political context to migration and asylum in the UK. This obviously adds an extra layer of bureaucracy and can lead to delays, but over time, building trust and consultation with partners and stakeholders, says Elsmore, this process has become much faster and is better integrated into the decision-making process.
Aside from ensuring political buy in and support, city council approval is required since the local authority must sign on to the financial responsibility in case the local sponsorship programme fails. If this should happen the city council must take over the responsibilities of the sponsorship groups, including ensuring access to housing, education, child safeguarding and healthcare.
THE MULTISTAKHOLDER APPROACH, THE KEYS TO ITS SUCCESS
“The beauty of the Community sponsorship model is that citizens own it but as broadly as possible, they have the support of leaders across Cardiff”
Cardiff's experience of community sponsorship is an excellent example of a successful multi-stakeholder approach. Recognising the need for community leadership in the process, Cllr Elsmore, in collaboration with the Vale and Cardiff Council, established the Regional Leadership Group. This group brings together local authorities and civic actors involved in the reception and integration of refugees. Through this membership, the local authority ensures that third sector organisations – including health, education, the police – and faith groups are directly involved in the design and implementation of the sponsorship programme. Bringing these actors to the table – creating community leadership – enables sustainability and strengthens cohesion within the wider community, not least through the multi-faith approach adopted in Cardiff.
Ms. Elsmore stressed the great outreach effect that Cardiff's successful example has had across Wales, reaching even the most isolated communities. With Cardiff showing very strong leadership in the Syrian resettlement schemes in 2016, many communities have embraced the scheme and welcomed refugees. This also shows the importance of formal involvement of local authorities to strengthen the process but also make it replicable by other communities in the region.
A STRONG AND CONTINUING COMMITMENT IN THE FACE OF AN UNCERTAIN WAY FORWARD
In the face of declining political engagement at national level, Cllr Elsmore emphasized the need to continue campaigning and advocating. Following the rejection of Cardiff Local Authority's request to the Home Office to provide additional funding to local authorities hosting community sponsorship schemes, resources will continue to be even more limited . While Wales is seen as a good example for community sponsorship and the work being done, she stressed the need to increase the resources needed to support this huge and very beneficial work.
She also expressed concern about the new Nationality and Borders Bill, which her party, Welsh Labour, and a large majority of the civil society supporting refugees and asylum seekers, see as a step backwards. The Bill is still in the House of Commons and passed the Committee stage on 4 November, now in the Report stage. It makes major changes to the asylum system in the UK, including new limitations on refugees' rights and the right to seek asylum. Moreover, it deepens the already strong divisions between Labour and Conservative authorities on the subject. This is where she sees the importance of community sponsorship as these divisions create wide disparities between UK administrations in the way they manage migration.
With recent developments, the focus has shifted to Afghanistan and Cardiff is committed to playing an important role in ensuring protection to Afghan people. The UK has confirmed on August 18 the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), however it has not been open yet. This scheme aims to resettle up to 20,000 people at risk, with 5,000 in the first year, but it has not yet announced when it will begin. Cllr Elsmore wants to make sure that community sponsorship remains in focus, in addition to resettlement, drawing on Cardiff's experience and leadership in both areas.
Regional and local authorities are at the forefront of refugee reception and integration in many European countries and have a vital role to play in community sponsorship. The engagement of cities and regions can facilitate access to housing, health, education, and the labour market, as well as the participation of refugees and migrants in all aspects of community life. There are many ways in which local authorities can engage – building on their first-hand experience of welcoming refugees and migrants – and the city of Cardiff is a living example of the partnerships that can be developed on the ground to enhance refugee welcome and integration through community sponsorship.