Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico
1800x500 Calais 2 ;

Refugees Welcome: Community Sponsorship as a pathway to refugee protection in the UK

Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries

Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Department of War Studies

16 June 2020

King’s, in collaboration with local and international partners, is spearheading an innovative refugee community sponsorship project that will offer a small-scale yet impactful response to the issue of forced displacement, through the resettlement of a refugee student and their family to the UK.

In recent months people’s movements have been severely restricted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, in ways that might have been unimaginable a few months earlier. In the UK, travel restrictions have led to a sharp decline in asylum applications, with Europe recording the lowest level of asylum applications for over a decade. Yet, this does not indicate a fall in the number of people who are forcefully displaced; rather, more people are stuck in countries of origin and spaces of transit en route, often without adequate access to essential services.

Refugee resettlement is one safe and legal pathway to protection for people in search of safety. In recent years, the issue of forced migration in Europe has often been described in terms of a ‘migration crisis’. This is a problematic narrative as it suggests that migration, or the arrival of people in Europe, is itself a problem. Moreover, by locating the issue in Europe, a wider geography and history of mobility including Europe’s violent engagements in other parts of the world, is cut off from the frame of analysis.

The proliferation of borders

The problem is not movement as such – people move all the time, or at least we did before the Covid-19 pandemic, the problem is that, due to the proliferation of borders, people in search of safety often have no access to legal routes to safety. One of the reasons that so many people embark on irregular, costly and dangerous journeys is that there are very few visas for people travelling on humanitarian grounds such as fleeing conflict, persecution, poverty or other conditions that endanger their lives.

A serious rethinking of the border regime is required to ensure that people on the move do not become illegalised – that is, have to resort to irregular and often dangerous journeys. Making legal pathways more accessible to people who need them most and increasing their capacity is one step in the right direction. As a refugee resettlement pathway, community sponsorship supports this effort.

Community Sponsorship in the UK

The UK refugee community sponsorship scheme enables community organisations to sponsor a refugee family brought to the UK through the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) resettlement scheme and to support them in settling in their local area. In the past two years, King’s has worked together with Citizens UK, the UK Home Office, the UNHCR and international partners to further develop this scheme by adding an education pathway. This project is led by Professor Bronwyn Parry and myself.

King’s is a ‘Refugees Welcome University’

King’s will become the sponsoring community for a refugee student and their family. We will provide the family with structured all-round support and a fully-funded undergraduate scholarship to enable the student to further their education. This is a community effort, facilitated by an institutional partnership between King’s and Citizens UK, and involving a dedicated team of staff and students from across the university, who will offer day-to-day support as well as professional advice on education, employment, healthcare and welfare. A student buddy from KCL Student Action for Refugees (KCL STAR) will offer peer support for the refugee student. It is also a community-building process for King’s, bringing together staff and students, and working closely with refugee communities, to create positive change.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UNHCR resettlement scheme has been temporarily suspended, causing a delay in the implementation of this novel community sponsorship scheme. We have continued our preparations, creating a safe, welcoming and supportive structure, and we hope to welcome a refugee family to King’s later this year.

Find out more about how King’s is contributing to understanding and responding to the global issue of forced displacement and helping to realise the educational potential of refugees on the King’s Sanctuary Programme webpage.

In this story

Leonie  Ansems de Vries

Leonie Ansems de Vries

Reader in International Politics

Latest news