Our community is incredibly diverse, and has a genuine sense of responsibility for refugees, many of whom are Muslim.
How the Muslim Community Can Change the Lives of Refugees
A couple of years ago, on a cold, rainy evening in London, people gathered in a room hoping to find out how they could make a difference to the refugee crisis. Listening to Dr Russ Rook, Founder and Chair of Reset, talk about Community Sponsorship, I realised there was a unique opportunity for ordinary people like me to change the lives of refugees, and strengthen our local communities at the same time.
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of starting a Muslim-led Community Sponsorship group that will soon be supporting a refugee family in their first year in the UK. And despite Coronavirus hitting pause on many things, starting a sponsorship group is something you can do from home, which can strengthen your connection to your community even virtually!
You may not have heard of Community Sponsorship yet either. It was introduced by the government in 2016, and since then over 400 refugees have been resettled through the scheme. Each time, a refugee family is placed with a group of friends, neighbours or colleagues who have come together and been trained in how to best support them as they settle into their new community.
It’s not only the 400 refugees’ lives that have changed as a result. The lives of the sponsors who volunteer to support them – of which I am one – also change. We learn new things, strengthen ties with others in our communities, and ultimately know that we have had a positive impact on the lives of people who have had to flee their homes.
It’s no wonder that a growing number of Muslim-led groups are getting involved: we’re well placed to support refugees. Our community is incredibly diverse, and has a genuine sense of responsibility for refugees, many of whom are Muslim. This sense of responsibility, coupled with strong communities, mosque facilities, and an interest in how we can help others is probably why Muslims are increasingly interested in the scheme.
And now, there’s even more reason to be a part of the movement, as refugees resettled through the scheme will begin to be counted in addition to government resettlement targets as part of the UK’s new commitment. In other words, this is the only way as citizens we can personally and directly increase the number of refugees that the UK allows to build a new life here.
There is something else striking about the scheme. Almost anyone can be involved. All you need are some life skills or local knowledge and the time and willingness to share them. Do you know the local bus routes well? Have you applied for a school place or registered with a GP? Any of these skills and more are incredibly valuable to a family who has just moved here. And you can think about who could join your group, or set up an online call with your friends to discuss this during quarantine.
My Mercy Mission group is made up of Muslims working in finance, an Islamic Shariah scholar, a doctor, and property consultant. We are diverse in our professions, but united by our desire to do something meaningful and close to home. Other sponsor groups in the country include stay at home parents, retirees and students – it’s a movement for anyone who wants to make a difference, and get to know their community better.
Like anything rewarding, there’s some hard work in the process. Before you receive a family, you have to attend training and submit an application. This has taken us around 18 months, and mosques or other supporting institutions need to find time for this too. You also need sign-off from your local authority: some are supportive, and others can be difficult to engage.
Luckily, Reset, the UK’s provider of Community Sponsorship training, can help you with every step of the journey, and the journey can still start whilst we’re physically isolating. My own experience of being a sponsor has been enriching beyond my expectations. So, if you’re interested in supporting a refugee family, getting to know your community better, and directly increasing the number of refugees the UK resettles, I urge you to get involved.
Head to Resetuk.org to find out more about becoming a Community Sponsor, and get in touch with people who might like to do this with you. You can watch this video and others about Community Sponsorship on Youtube too.