“The community sponsorship programme in the Basque Country highlights public and social responsibility in welcoming refugees and the need for it to be shared between all parties involved. The programme enhances citizen participation and empowers communities and refugees, thus paving the way towards the development of similar programmes in other regions and countries”.
It is with this inspiring message that Xabier Legarreta Gabilondo, Director of Migration and Asylum within the Department of Equality, Justice and Social Policies of the Basque Government (partner in the SHARE QSN project – link), opened the meeting on 27 April 2021 to discuss the evaluation of the first regional community sponsorship pilot in Spain.
The online event brought together representatives from Spanish national, regional and local authorities, civil society, faith-based organisations and local volunteer groups, as well as UNHCR, GRSI, the SHARE Network and other interested parties.
In Euskadi (Basque Country) five local sponsorship groups across five municipalities hosted the initial arrival of 5 Syrian refugee families - 29 individuals in total. These groups provided accommodation and €10,000 to support the refugee families. In turn, the Basque government committed €300,000 for refugee provisions across a 27-month period, which includes funding a part-time social worker employed by the associated entities (Caritas and the Jesuits) to coordinate and support the sponsoring groups. Such experience allowed the Basque government and its partners to acquire a significant body of knowledge on community sponsorship through interviews and feedback sessions with beneficiaries, volunteer sponsors, and other actors involved in the programme, as well as via the testing and evaluation of innovative approaches.
The programme’s evaluation carried out by Instrategies, a think and do tank, provided an overall assessment of the programme’s strengths and challenges, which were discussed at the event. For instance, the introduction of the aforementioned part-time social worker coordinating the work of local sponsor groups with the refugee families has proved to be pivotal for the success of the pilot, allowing for additional support and follow-up as well as more frequent and useful exchanges between sponsorship groups. Another strength has been the diversity of the programme’s local volunteer groups, which ensures that participating refugees have access to a strong network of different local persons of varied ages, resources and contacts during the project’s timeframe of 2 years. Finally, a special feature of the pilot is the additional amount of financial supportprovided by the Basque Government to refugee families to cover rent and some living costs.
While the evaluation of the programme has been very positive, some key challenges remain, such as the transition period for refugees after the two-year sponsorship duration, when sponsoring groups are no longer responsible. With Covid-19, the support period needed to be extended, and it is therefore too early to assess the degree of success in terms of autonomy of the refugee families beyond the sponsorship period. In addition to that, a stronger involvement of municipalities as well as improved training for volunteers, especially in intercultural skills, were also recommended, for significant differences in cultural understanding led at times to tensions or conflict between groups.
In spite of this, the programme succeded in exploring whether the community sponsorship model could also be applied to other autonomous regions’ resettlement programmes. Based on the Basque model, Community Sponsorship projects have recently been launched in the Autonomous Communities of Valencia and Navarra. However, being embedded within the Spanish resettlement programme, these regional sponsorship initiativesare not offering additional places yet.
Overall, the pilot experience has been evaluated positively, for it has provided five families with the opportunity to be granted protection and receive support from sponsorship groups to facilitate their integration in the host communities. This has paved the way for social entities and society in general to act in solidarity and protect refugees, also setting the example for other regions interested in running similar projects.
The Basque public television carried out a programme on refugees, in which the regional Basque Country sponsorship programme appears. Below are some useful links to videos and interviews (in Spanish):
- LINK 1 - Almasri, refugiado sirio: ''Nos marchamos a Jordanía según empezó la guerra'', featuring Syrian refugee Mohamed Almasri;
- LINK 2 - ''Los niños de la zona ocupada sufren bullying por parte de los profesores marroquíes'', featuring Sahrawi activist Hassanna Aalia;
- LINK 3 - ''La extrema derecha pone obstáculos a todos los avances en derechos humanos'', featuring the director of CEAR Euskadi, Patricia Bárcenas;
- LINK 4 - Andrea: ''No podemos volver a Nicaragua, estamos en una lista de presos políticos';
- LINK 5 - "Busco Asilo", full reportage.