Guidance on how to start thinking about empowering refugees to live independent lives
Integrating into a new country, or community, is a very personal process and it is impossible to put a timescale on how long it will take for someone to feel integrated. For some people, it may be a matter of months. For others, it could take years and integration is an ongoing process.
It may be helpful to think of integration as a journey which you are helping refugees to progress along, and remember that you cannot control how integrated an individual will feel at any given time. You can help refugees to understand any barriers they are facing, and how they can overcome them, but also to reflect and celebrate the progress they have made.
One of the strengths of Community Sponsorship is that you can provide refugees with access to the wider community. However, you should be guided by the refugees if, how and when they would like to be introduced to it. For example, some refugees may find it overwhelming if you throw a welcome party for them just after they have arrived, but be happy to be invited to a Christmas event once they have settled in.
You should also discuss with them how they would like to be introduced to people: they may not like being introduced as “our refugee family” and prefer to be known as Mr and Mrs ____ from No 23, for example. Some groups have told us that they have a tendency to refer to the refugee family that they are supporting as ‘our family’ and are worried that this implies some ownership and takes away the empowerment of refugees; instead they try to use ‘the family’ wherever possible.
Empowerment and working in partnership
It is important that you try to empower refugees to make decisions for themselves and set their own goals that they will work towards, this is the whole point of Community Sponsorship to offer a refugee family all of the tools they need to build their own lives in the UK.
It’s important to establish that you are “working with them, not for them”. You should work in partnership with the family, and let them lead their own lives. Avoid building their dependency on you, as this can prevent them from taking ownership for what happens. Your group will have discussed your approach to empowerment when you were writing your application to become a Community Sponsor.
Naturally, it takes time for people to become independent and you should aim to taper your level of involvement. During the first weeks and months after the family have arrived your group might be busy helping them intensively, and then less frequently over time. The precise level of involvement will depend on the individuals concerned, their needs at that time, and your group and volunteer capacity to see them. Groups tell us they often visit multiple times during the first few weeks following arrival and this gradually tapers down, however, events can happen which increases the amount of input you have. Keep in mind that this will always change, and if the family you are supporting needs support less and less over time, this is a sign of the success of your group and the support you have offered.
Empowering people can sometimes be a difficult process. It can require allowing people to make decisions you disagree with, and the freedom to fail at some tasks. This allows people to take ownership of decisions, try things for themselves and learn from mistakes.
Some people may be happy to be more independent, others may require some encouragement and you will learn how to negotiate this with the individuals you are supporting however things work, it’s important to avoid creating an environment where the family that you are supporting is reliant on you. Ultimately, the goal of Community Sponsorship is for refugees to be as independent and integrated as possible, and although you can support them, success will depend on them.