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Community Sponsorship

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Community Sponsorship is an innovative model of refugee resettlement which offers ordinary people and communities in Ireland an extraordinary opportunity to directly help refugees to rebuild their lives in safety and settle into their new communities.

Community Sponsorship was pioneered in Canada in the 1970s. We know from almost four decades of the programme’s success there that it is hugely positive for the lives of both refugees and local communities.

Community Sponsorship empowers individuals and communities to come together and take the lead in resettling refugees in their local areas. Community groups support refugees with all the things that enable a person to settle into a new community – things like helping with finding employment, connecting to social services, enrolling in schools, and introducing families to local public transport and amenities. The supports provided by groups will vary depending on the needs of the family.

Sponsors commit to providing financial, emotional and settlement support to help newcomers as they settle into their new communities. Community sponsorship creates lasting bonds between new members of the community and their neighbours. In doing so, it strengthens communities and builds awareness of broader refugee-related issues.

Community sponsorship is a sustainable and inspiring way for people in Ireland to welcome refugees and offers the chance to make a real difference to people affected by war and persecution.

Community Sponsorship is a practical and powerful way for communities in Ireland to respond to the global refugee crisis. Community sponsorship mobilises the energy, compassion and expertise which already exists in local communities across Ireland, enabling them to support and empower refugees as they rebuild their lives in safety.

For refugees arriving in Ireland, sponsorship provides a ready-made network of support. Sponsors help refugees navigate their new communities and overcome any challenges they may face. Having a community supporting them as soon as they arrive helps refugees to get settled in quicker and build fulfilling and meaningful lives for themselves.

Community Sponsorship is also hugely rewarding for local communities. Sponsors often say it is the most meaningful thing they have ever done.

Sponsorship brings together people from different backgrounds to work towards a common goal: welcoming and supporting newcomers to their community. Time and again, we see communities strengthened and transformed through this life-changing experience.

Community involvement with the programme also helps to build greater awareness, understanding and empathy around refugee-related issues locally and nationally.

Resettlement is the process through which refugees living outside their home country are transferred to another country where they are granted long term residency. To be eligible for resettlement, refugees must be unable to return safely to their home country and either be at risk, or have no prospects of integrating, in the country they currently live in. As the number of resettlement places needed far surpasses the number available, UNHCR prioritises cases for resettlement based on need and vulnerability.

State participation in resettlement is voluntary, and it is national governments that select which of the refugees referred to them will be offered permanent places of residence in their countries. The status provided by the resettlement state ensures protection against return to their country of origin where they will be at risk of persecution. The resettled refugee and his/her family or dependents will be provided with access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. Resettlement also carries with it the opportunity to eventually become a naturalised citizen of the resettlement country.

Refugees coming through the Resettlement programme are initially accommodated in an Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre (EROC) where they are likely to reside for a number of months. During this period they will receive English classes and supports. They are then resettled nationally once suitable housing becomes available.

Refugees referred to the Community Sponsorship programme, upon arrival, will go directly to the community where they will reside and immediately begin the process of settlement. Under community sponsorship, private citizens and community organisations, rather than government officials, become the face of welcome for resettled refugees arriving to their country; supporting them through the process by providing a range of social and emotional supports, as well as providing accommodation, assisting in learning the language and seeking employment, enrolling in schools and any other necessary supports. Through the establishment of a Community Sponsorship programme in Ireland, communities will for the first time be supported to provide direct assistance to refugees settling in their locality though a structured programme backed by a unique collaboration between government, UNHCR, NGOs and civil society.

Sponsorship

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Community Sponsorship Groups commit to providing support for a refugee family for a period of 18 months. Sponsors meet the refugee or refugee family in the airport on day one to welcome them to Ireland and bring them to their new home, help them to get set up and provide initial orientation.

Sponsors are responsible for helping with things like finding employment, connecting to social services, and enrolling in schools. They are also responsible for helping with other things such as sourcing language lessons or translation services if required and introducing families to local public transport and amenities.

The Group is responsible for sourcing suitable accommodation, available to the family for at least two years

In advance of the family’s arrival, Community Sponsorship Groups are required to:
  • Attend relevant training; 
  • Undergo Garda vetting;
  • Develop a plan for how they will support the family;
  • Fundraise €10,000 to contribute to these supports.
Financial and non-financial support contributed by sponsors can include:
  • Exceptional needs or specialist costs for physical, mental and/or dental health
  • Transport
  • Interpretation / Translation
  • Language training
  • Housing
  • Employment preparation and job seeking
  • Start-up needs such as household supplies and furnishings
  • Clothing
  • Cultural and social activities
  • Access to religious activities
  • Access to education

Participation in community sponsorship is voluntary and applications are open to all kinds of community groups, including local community groups, faith groups, businesses, neighbourhoods, and charities.

Community sponsorship groups will need to show either that members of the group have the relevant experience or expertise, or that they have linked with others and organisations in their area who can provide it.

Necessary or useful skills and competencies include:

  • Finance – budgeting, accounting, etc.
  • Child safeguarding knowledge and designation – either as a Mandated Person or Designated Liaison Person (DLP)
  • Ability to act as, or to access, interpreters (most often Arabic to English).
  • English language tuition e.g. ESOL qualifications.
  • Experience as a health practitioner.
  • Local authority experience and/or contacts.
  • Knowledge of or connections to organisations or groups specialising in supporting refugees or asylum seekers, social inclusion or local development.
  • Ability to find employment or training opportunities for the refugee families.
  • Knowledge of or connections to places of worship, cultural centres, refugee support groups

Community Sponsorship Groups will be expected to commit to sponsor a refugee family for a period of eighteen months and to ensure that housing is secured for a minimum period of two years. Sponsoring means the Community Sponsorship Group will provide all necessary supports to the family during the initial period of their resettlement in Ireland and assist the family’s successful integration into your community.

Sponsors will be required to demonstrate that they have a minimum of €10,000 on hand to support a sponsored family, of which a maximum of €2,000 may be in-kind contributions (e.g. a commitment given to provide professional interpretation services, English classes, child care etc. free of charge). Refugees are entitled to access a range of social welfare benefits on the basis of the same eligibility criteria as Irish citizens. In the first few months after arrival, the family will typically require a range of financial supports and expenses such as food, medical expenses, clothing, supports for education such as books and school uniforms etc. Refugees may qualify for supplementary or discretional welfare schemes, such as the exceptional needs payments, but Community Sponsorship Groups are expected to demonstrate that they have fully considered the needs and requirements of the family and to plan financial needs accordingly. Additional funding may also be required to ensure that the refugee family can participate fully, to the extent they wish to, in local society and community activities.

Community Sponsorship was created to increase resettlement in Ireland and constitutes a refugee programme, not a housing programme. One of the core tenets of the Community Sponsorship programme is the provision of independent accommodation which is sourced from outside the usual or traditional avenues. Community Sponsorship allows Ireland to resettle more refugees than would be possible if local authority housing was guaranteed as a precondition of the programme. 

Community Sponsorship Groups (CSGs) are required to work within the constraints of Ireland’s existing housing policies. Indeed, a central aspect of the sponsorship undertaking is the requirement to find suitable accommodation, facilitated through each group’s own creativity, ingenuity, resources as well as their community knowledge and networks. While it is recognised that there are huge challenges in respect to finding accommodation, the success of the programme to date and the families who have been resettled via community sponsorship, demonstrates that securing independent accommodation for the duration of the sponsorship period is realistic and attainable.

The Open Community is the national support organisation for Ireland’s Community Sponsorship programme. The Open Community represents a collaborative partnership between the programme’s key partners, who work collectively to develop supports and resources that help to grow and scale the programme.  

The Open Community empowers both communities and refugees by: 

  • Promoting, enhancing and developing Community Sponsorship across Ireland;
  • Providing a central hub of support, guidance and resources to the Irish Community Sponsorship movement;
  • Mobilising and empowering a diverse range of individuals, communities and organisations to welcome and support refugees as they rebuild their lives in safety.

Refugees

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A refugee is a person who has fled their country due to the presence or threat of persecution, conflict or serious human rights violations, and cannot return as a result of this danger.

In such circumstances, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, may refer their cases to other countries that consider admitting them by way of resettlement to enable them to restart and rebuild their lives in a safe and stable environment.

Anybody arriving in Ireland through Community Sponsorship will have been recognised as a refugee by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and gone through a vetting process overseen by the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP).

A refugee is a person who has fled their country due to the presence or threat of persecution, conflict or serious human rights violations, and cannot return as a result of this danger.

In such circumstances, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, may refer their cases to other countries that consider admitting them by way of resettlement to enable them to restart and rebuild their lives in a safe and stable environment.

Anybody arriving in Ireland through Community Sponsorship will have been recognised as a refugee by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and gone through a vetting process overseen by the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP).

Refugees resettled to Ireland under the community sponsorship programme have the following rights:

  • Permission to reside in Ireland
  • Permission to seek and enter employment
  • Permission to access education and training
  • Permission to receive medical care and social welfare benefits
  • Permission to apply to for Irish citizenship following three years of residence.

For more information see the International Protection Act 2015.

Community Sponsorship is designed to increase the number of resettlement places Ireland can offer and referrals to Community Sponsorship Ireland are made via existing procedures already in place for the government managed resettlement programme rather than through Direct Provision.

Persons eligible for this programme will be refugees who currently reside outside of Ireland and who have been identified by UNHCR and accepted by the Irish Government as individuals who are in need of resettlement. The individuals selected will also be asked to agree to participate in this programme and to provide written consent to share basic information with sponsors in order to be part of a Community Sponsorship Programme. Resettled refugees being referred currently by UNHCR to the Irish resettlement programme are all living in Lebanon and Jordan, the vast majority of whom are Syrian nationals. This may be subject to change in the future by agreement between UNHCR and the government.

The Irish Government and UNHCR will have responsibility for selecting refugee families who are eligible and suitable for this programme. A successful sponsorship application will be met with as quick a turnaround as possible by the Irish state to ensure the speedy arrival of the refugees into Ireland so as to take advantage of the community resources prepared. Where an application has been approved, subject to housing, the matching process may take place prior to housing being secured but the Community Sponsorship Group will be expected to provide further details and documentation as required so as to co-ordinate this process with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and to ensure that appropriate accommodation will be in place in time for the family’s arrival. 

A refugee family will be matched to the Community Sponsorship Group by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and Equality on the basis of criteria such as:

  • The needs of the family (health, medical, educational, employment opportunities etc.)
  • The proposed settlement plan set out by the community sponsorship group and how it may address and meet the needs of the refugee family.
  • The size of accommodation available in that location to meet the size of the proposed family.

Application Process

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If you would like to apply to become a sponsor under the Community Sponsorship Programme, the first thing to do is to find like-minded individuals who wish to apply with you and to contact a Regional Support Organisation (RSO).  An RSO is a sponsorship support organisation who will provide training advice and guidance and support you to develop your application.

An RSO is a sponsorship support organisation who will provide training advice and guidance and support you to develop your application.

Each RSO is responsible for providing support in different areas of the country.  The programme’s RSOs and the geographical areas they have responsibility for are provided below:

  • Irish Refugee Council
    • Area 1 (Dublin/Louth)
    • Area 7 (Leitrim /Sligo/Cavan/Donegal/ Monaghan)
  • Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre
    • Area 2 (Cork/Kerry)
    • Area 5 (Waterford /Wexford/ Kilkenny/ Carlow/ Laois)
  • Doras
    • Area 3 (Limerick/Tipp/Clare)
  • Irish Red Cross
    • Area 4 (Meath/Kildare/Wicklow/Westmeath/Offaly)
    • Area 6 (Galway/Mayo/Longford/Roscommon)
  1. Individuals come together to form a Community Sponsorship Group; nominate a primary and secondary sponsor and determine who the other members of the group will be.
  2. Register initial expression of interest with an RSO.
  3. Complete and submit to the RSO an initial detailed application form which will include clear plans for fundraising and a sponsorship undertaking whereby all members of the group commit to meet the obligations of the programme.
  4. Participate in training to be arranged by the RSO.
  5. Complete and submit to your RSO a detailed settlement plan. A Child Safeguarding Statement and proof of completion of the E-Learning Programme must also be submitted along with your settlement plan.
  6. If you do not have a housing solution available at the time of submission of the Settlement Plan, you may submit Sections 1 – 3 of the Settlement Plan for approval and submit Section 4 once you have secured suitable accommodation. A formal decision can only be made once suitable accommodation has been secured.
  7. Once all sections of the Settlement Plan have been reviewed by your RSO and submitted to the Department, your group will receive formal notification from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs that your Settlement Plan has been accepted. At that stage, your group will wait to be notified if you have been matched to a refugee family and of their anticipated arrival date.

The settlement plan outlines the details of how a community sponsor group will deliver settlement support and services to the refugee family who will be resettled. The Guidance for Sponsors’ Settlement Planning is a guide that helps community sponsorship groups develop a robust plan which will, in turn, help throughout the settlement process.

The plan covers the basics of what will need to be done to welcome and support a refugee family. It details how each group proposes to meet the outcomes and requirements including;

  • A home of their own, of an acceptable standard, furnished and with adequate facilities.
  • School places for the children.
  • Appropriate interpreting services, as required.
  • Arrival day plans, and a comprehensive welcome and support plan for the first week.
  • Accessing Social Welfare Payments and eligibility for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and providing financial support to the family until the Social Welfare payments are in place.
  • Opening a bank account.
  • Signing on with a GP, dentist and other medical services.
  • English language training, both formal (ESOL training and qualifications) and informal (conversation sessions).
  • A strategy of how to ensure the family attain independence when the 18-month sponsorship commitment ends

In order to submit an application a community sponsorship group must consider and demonstrate the following:

  • That the group is comprised of a minimum core group of five people (a primary and secondary sponsor and a minimum of three additional support personnel), all of whom must be over 18.
  • Each member of the group must be legally resident in Ireland.
  • Each group will need to register with their local RSO who will advise you in preparing the application and be available to provide help and support throughout the sponsorship period.
  • Community Sponsorship Group support personnel are people who will play a regular or significant role in the delivery of settlement supports to the family. While friends and family may also help on an occasional basis, it’s important for safe-guarding reasons that you identify everyone you anticipate will be playing a regular or significant role in the delivery of supports.
  • Each group should include individuals with a range of skill sets so that a varied level of experience is covered. For example, someone with experience in education, employment, financial supports and someone who has experience in working in an intercultural context or supporting vulnerable people would all be beneficial. In your settlement plan you will be asked to designate who has responsibility for each area.
  • Each group must attend training provided by their RSO.
  • Each group must commit to raising a minimum of €10,000 to support a sponsored family, of which a maximum of €2,000 may be in-kind contributions.
  • Each group must consider in their application what fundraising efforts will be deployed.

To ensure sponsors are well prepared to take on the responsibilities of their engagement, each Community Sponsorship Group will be required to align themselves with a Regional Support Organisation. RSOs provide training and support to community sponsorship groups during the application process and, if approved, in the delivery of resettlement support throughout the sponsorship period. RSOs are responsible for educating potential sponsors on the sponsorship process and helping community sponsorship groups in the development of their settlement plans. RSOs will also provide on-going support to sponsors prior to, during and following the arrival of the refugees, assist in the resolution of issues which may arise between the refugee family and their sponsors.

Comprehensive online learning resources are available through The Open Community’s Interactive Learning Centre and can be accessed on the resource page of this website.

One of the greatest challenges facing Community Sponsorship Groups is finding suitable accommodation for the refugee family for the duration of the sponsorship period. As a landlord, you can help groups overcome this challenge and at the same time change the lives of a refugee family. By providing your accommodation to a community sponsorship group you will benefit from rental income for at least two years with the knowledge that there is a network of support for the family to help them manage finances.

To meet the requirements of Community Sponsorship, any accommodation offered must;

  • Meet the standards set out in the Standards for Rented Houses Regulations 2017 and Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019;
  • Have its own front door and not be an offer of rooms in a house share; and
  • Be available at an affordable rent; families who arrive through Community Sponsorship will be entitled to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).

CAIRDE: Allies Partner Network is a partner organisation of The Open Community. The Allies Network is coordinated in close collaboration with Open Doors Initiative and seeks to engage key areas of Irish society from  business, education and sport to religious, community and other groups. Allies partners commit via a Pledge to promote sponsorship across their networks, provide industry or sector expertise and provide training or employment opportunities wherever possible. To become an Allies partner or to find out more information contact The Open Community who will be able to advise on how best to tailor support and engagement.