I established the Community Sponsorship Programme on 15 November 2019 following a successful pilot programme, which commenced in December 2018. Under the pilot phase, five communities (Dunshaughlin, Midleton, Carrigtwohill, Kells and Lismore) welcomed refugee families to their areas. The five refugee families comprised of 17 people in total and both the refugees and local communities have reported very positive experiences.
The Community Sponsorship Ireland Programme is a complementary refugee resettlement stream to the traditional state-centred model. The key feature of this programme is that it is based on the establishment of a group of people in a community who commit to support a family in their area.
The refugee families have been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR and arrive in Ireland following vetting and orientation organised by my Department and overseen by the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP).
The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established by Government Decision of September 2015 as a key part of Ireland’s response to the global humanitarian migration crisis. It committed Ireland to accept 4,000 persons under various strands, including the EU Relocation Mechanism and UNHCR-led Resettlement Programme. As of 30 December 2019, 3,206 persons have arrived under the IRPP, inclusive of those who were resettled under the Community Sponsorship programme.
It is up to these community groups to access accommodation locally for these families and support them as they access services. All refugees are fully entitled to health, education and social welfare services, but the community groups support the families in navigating these services.
To date, eight refugee families (30 individuals) have arrived in Ireland under Community Sponsorship and have been warmly received by their host communities. A further nine communities have been approved as Community Sponsors Groups and are now actively undergoing required training through their respective Regional Support Organisation. An additional application has been received from a community organisation and is currently awaiting recognition as a Community Sponsorship Group.
Community Sponsorship has been successfully operating in Canada for over 40 years and research from that country shows better outcomes for the refugees. The Irish model has been developed in cooperation with the Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the UNHCR and civil society organisations including the Irish Red Cross, NASC, the Irish Refugee Council and Amnesty International Ireland.
To further promote the programme, an information leaflet was distributed to Councillors throughout the country together with an accompanying letter seeking their support in positively promoting the programme in their local communities. The information leaflet was also distributed to all TDs and Senators. The leaflet outlines the benefits of the programme, for communities and refugees alike.
To provide supports for groups wishing to set up a Community Sponsorship Group in their area, funding is being provided for a number of Regional Support Organisations based around the country. I hope that more communities will come forward and support this rewarding initiative, which empowers refugee families and local communities alike.