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Policy brief: The promise of an EU approach to community sponsorship, June 2021

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by Anna Coulibaly

Executive Summary

Community sponsorship seems to yield some solutions regarding increasing safe and legal ways of admitting refugees, fostering refugee integration and creating positive narratives surrounding migration. Although the schemes are national, the European Commission wants the EU to play a role in encouraging and supporting their expansion. This brief finds that if the EU offers a framework for reference and corresponding support tools, this could represent a value added to community sponsorship schemes across Europe.

Introduction

Community sponsorship enables individuals and communities to engage directly in welcoming and supporting refugees. There is no set definition for the scheme and its design can take various forms. The core of the concept lies in a group of private citizens, who, with the help of civil society organisations (CSOs) and in close cooperation with local and national authorities, provide financial, practical and moral assistance to admit and integrate refugees.
The beneficiaries are usually identified by UNHCR but host governments retain ultimate responsibility for the sponsored refugees.

The first community sponsorship schemes originated in 1979 in Canada as ‘private sponsorships’. By 2019, groups of private citizens and organisations had welcomed over 300,000 refugees, in addition to those resettled by the Canadian Government. From 2015 to 2019, the EU resettled 65,000 refugees, and EU Member States (EU MS) pledged to offer an additional 30,000 places for 2020. To fulfil this target, the European Commission encouraged EU MS to use community sponsorship to increase resettlement places while fostering integration.

Community sponsorship is considered a successful tool to enhance the social inclusion of refugees, and a potential path to expand the number of refugees accessing protection in a safe and legal manner. In the past few years, this whole-of-society-approach has gained momentum on the international stage. It has garnered growing support among experts, donors and practitioners, and the Global Compact for Refugees names it a promising third country solution. In the EU, three of its MS (Germany, Ireland and Spain) have established community sponsorship schemes, which are designed and implemented at the national level. At the same time, the EC has called on the “Union [to] promote an EU approach to community sponsorship” in its Recommendation on Legal Pathways to Protection, published as a companion to the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. The Recommendation does not provide an EU blueprint for community sponsorship schemes. However, the EC’s encouragement to work towards a common approach shows a certain willingness of the EU to take ownership of community sponsorship. Given that national authorities and communities remain the main actors for their community sponsorship programmes, the EU’s role needs to be defined.

This policy brief will discuss what an EU approach could look like, examine its benefits, review schemes implemented in EU MS and propose recommendations for scaling up community sponsorship across Europe.