Refugees: Enabling people-based solutions

Friday, 16th June 2017

By Chris Clements, Director at Social Finance

This week is Refugee Week, and a lot of things will be said — both positive and negative, conjuring up many associations. For me however, it’s all about people.

There are currently an unprecedented 21 million refugees in the world, and with over 34,000 people being displaced each day, it is no wonder this has been widely called the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation. In the UK, we currently provide protection to around 16,000 people a year. Over the past 18 months, I’ve been researching the issue deeply through my work in Social Finance’s Impact Incubator, trying to understand this complex issue and what more can be done in the UK.

At Social Finance we often look to the outcomes, and if you look hard at this topic it can make uncomfortable reading in terms of the opportunities we enable for refugees in this country. The majority face destitution in the months after being given protection, with many facing homelessness. Close to 2 years later more than 60% have lower levels of English language skill and have worse health outcomes than UK nationals, with stress, anxiety and depression being commonly reported. Unemployment rates are 50% and of those that are working over a third are on temporary contracts, and half are overqualified for their jobs. Refugees report experiences of racism and segregation and 1 in 4 spend no leisure time with British nationals. In short, more needs to be done. That’s why we’re excited to be helping develop a promising approach that’s new to the UK: community sponsorship.

As I’ve led Social Finance’s work, the thing that has struck me over and over is the humanity of it. Refugees are just people caught up in terrible situations, seeking sanctuary and stability. I’ve heard stories like the Ayo family, who fled the conflict in Syria and endured loss and suffering but are now rebuilding their lives in Coventry, hoping for a new future for their teenage children. Nor, trying to put physical and mental trauma behind her. Mahmoud, who just wants to learn English, to ‘stand on my own two feet and do things for myself, to understand this new society I live in and start a new business’. Each of these names — and countless others — have a unique, difficult story behind them.

However, the communities in which refugees seek to build new lives are also just groups of people. Families, organisations, politicians with desires, aspirations, fears, and yes, prejudices. But also warmth, compassion, energy and resources — as evidenced by the continued engagement by wide swaths of civil society. People like Nick and his fellow church members in Merton, helping prepare a home by painting and decorating it, ready for a newly arrived family. Mary and her friends in the book club in Cornwall who have come together to support a refugee family. As I’ve spoken to numerous people across the UK, I’ve seen first-hand a huge desire to do more. This energy needs to be mobilised in an effective, sustainable way.

Community sponsorship does this — enabling local people to take responsibility for resettling a refugee family, supporting and empowering them to rebuild their lives. Over its long track record in Canada, the approach has improved outcomes for refugees and made communities more welcoming. Social Finance is therefore working closely with civil society groups and government to help achieve its potential in the UK.

During Refugee Week, there will be more evidence presented on the scale of the issue in the UK — but there will also be opportunities profiled to do something about them. We are starting to put in place the infrastructure and training required for sponsorship, and next week with our partners we are launching some new resources to encourage its growth.

But I’ll always remember that what we’re doing is connecting people.