Community sponsorship of refugees is a growing global phenomenon which can improve and expand refugee resettlement opportunities through harnessing the resources and networks of local volunteer groups, who are trained and supported to provide holistic settlement support to refugee newcomers.
Community refugee sponsorship has been working successfully in Canada for more than 40 years. Ordinary community members in Canada have sponsored and welcomed more than 325,000 refugees since the late 1970s. This number is in addition to those entering under the government-funded resettlement program.
The practice is now spreading around the world with countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina all having established community sponsorship schemes. The United States also looks likely to launch a scheme soon!
And here is how we started working to make this happen in Australia!
Initially launched as a joint initiative of a group of leading Australian charities and nonprofits*, Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia is now an independent non-profit organisation playing a leading role in encouraging, developing and supporting the implementation of a holistic community-led refugee support program in Australia.
We are working to harness the power of community across Australia to provide refugees with a warm welcome and high standard of settlement support upon arrival, leading to strong social and economic integration outcomes. We hope that this effort will ultimately enable Australia to resettle more refugees each year, supplementing Australia’s long-standing government-led humanitarian migration program.
In 2018, driven by the desire to find ways to expand and improve refugee resettlement in Australia and to create greater opportunities for connection between Australian citizens and refugee newcomers, a group of leading Australian charities and nonprofits* came together to launch a joint project – the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI).
CRSI’s role was to work with the Australian government and local communities to develop a shared vision in implementing a community refugee sponsorship program in Australia. CRSI’s work was made possible through the generous support of the Sidney Myer Fund and other philanthropic donors.
Launching an initial program during the pandemic
Although the Coronavirus pandemic saw Australia’s international borders closed to refugees and other migrants in 2020, CRSI decided to press ahead and launch a pilot program that would test and demonstrate the viability of the community sponsorship approach in Australia.
CRSI mobilised, screened and trained groups of local volunteers to mentor refugees who had arrived in Australia prior to the pandemic and who were in need of additional settlement support. The Pilot, called the ‘Group Mentorship Program,’ put the sponsorship model into practice in Australia and CRSI led in coordinating the efforts of dozens of local volunteer groups and NGOs in a ‘first of its kind’ experiment in Australia. Additional waves of volunteer groups became involved in the program following the arrival of thousands of Afghan evacuees in Australia, following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021.
The level of community support for this program was overwhelming and its positive results show how effective community-led support for refugees can be.
Learn more about the program and its preliminary findings:
- Watch A glimpse into community-led support of refugees in Australia (5 minute version)
- Read Group Mentorship Pilot Program on our blog
A new era begins
In mid 2021, an independent non profit entity was launched to carry this work forward – Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia Ltd (CRSA). CRSA inherited the staff, assets and role of CRSI and was established to continue working with government and community representatives to achieve the original vision of CRSI.
In December 2021, the coalition government announced its plan to work with CRSA in the co-design and implementation of a new Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP), inspired by the Canadian model. CRSA was contracted and funded by the federal government to deliver this new program, which was publicly launched in mid 2022. The first refugee newcomers arrived in Australian through the CRISP in August 2022, with Immigration Minister Andrew Giles celebrating this milestone and reaffirming the Albanese government’s plans to ensure that in the future community sponsorship grows in scale in the future and becomes additional to a larger annual humanitarian quota.
*CRSI initially launched as a joint initiative of Refugee Council of Australia, Amnesty International Australia, Save the Children Australia, Welcome to Australia (now Welcoming Australia), Rural Australians for Refugees and the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.
The Community Sponsorship journey so far
Learn more below about community refugee sponsorship as a global movement and where CRSA fits into this context.
Indochinese refugee crisis prompts Canada and Australia to adopt programs that involve ordinary citizens in helping to resettle refugees. This includes the Canadian Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program and the Australian Community Refugee Support Scheme (CRSS)
Australia moves to fully professionalise settlement services for refugees and discontinues CRSS program
Argentina launches community sponsorship program for Syrian refugees
Australia introduces pilot private sponsorship program (Community Proposal Pilot) (CPP)
UK launches community sponsorship program
MayAustralian government announces introduction Community Support Program (CSP) in Australia as CPP pilot ends. A cross-party group of Australian MPs sponsor a motion in favour of the introduction of a larger Canadian-style sponsorship program in federal parliament.
JuneThe Refugee Council of Australia undertakes study trip to Canada
August to DecemberSave the Children Australia convenes civil society forums to discuss the future of community sponsorship in Australia and leads a group of Australian charities in making joint representations to the government urging the establishment of a genuine community refugee sponsorship program in place of the CSP
FebruarySave the Children Australia undertakes study trip to United Kingdom
MarchThe Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI) makes first visit to Australia. Separately, Amnesty International Australia launches its ‘My New Neighbour’ campaign, calling for a more affordable and accessible sponsorship program.
AprilCommunity Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI) is launched in Australia as a joint initiative of the Refugee Council of Australia, Save the Children Australia, Amnesty International Australia, Welcoming Australia and Rural Australians for Refugees.
MayCommunity Organisation Refugee Sponsorship Pilot program launched in New Zealand
SeptemberCRSI attends Concordia Summit forums on sponsorship in New York
NovemberCRSI attends Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI) Conference in London
DecemberThe Australian government appoints an independent panel led by Professor Peter Shergold to review refugee settlement, employment and integration in Australia. Separately, the Australian Labor Party includes the introduction of a new community sponsorship program in its national policy platform.
MarchIreland launches a new community sponsorship program
MarchSpain welcomes refugees under its new community refugee sponsorship program
May Germany launches ‘NesT’ mentorship program, involving community members in housing resettled refugees
MayCRSI publishes comprehensive position paper outlining a new vision for community sponsorship in Australia, hosts the GRSI in Australia and secures generous funding from the Sidney Myer Fund
NovemberCRSI attends global community sponsorship forum in Ireland. Shergold Report’ is made public and recommends that Australia adopt an additional community sponsorship program to supplement the current humanitarian program. Australian government responds to Shergold Report by undertaking to review the CSP. CRSI hosts GRSI at a Parliament House event in Canberra
DecemberCRSI and Settlement Services International gather pledges from dozens of civil society organisations willing to support a future sponsorship program in connection with the inaugural Global Refugee Forum in Geneva
FebruaryCRSI and other collaborating organisations develop proposal for a pilot community sponsorship program and CRSI commences engagement with government’s review of the CSP
MarchAustralia closes international border due to COVID-19 pandemic
JuneCRSI hosts online Refugee Week event featuring Prof Peter Shergold
AugustCRSI launches pilot ‘Group Mentorship’ program with support from partner organisations, enabling trained local volunteer groups across Australia to provide holistic mentoring to refugee households in Australia during the pandemic
January Group Mentorship Program continues
July A newly incorporated and independent charity – Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia Ltd (CRSA) – is launched to take over and continue the work of CRSI into the future
August After a successful year of the pilot Group Mentorship Program, CRSA begins training the second round of volunteer mentor groups.
August The fall of Kabul and evacuation of Afghanistan sees an outpour of support from Australians around the country, showing the willingness and generosity that can be found in the community. CRSA Group Mentorship Program expands in response to increased interest from the community.
December The Federal government announces that it will partner with CRSA in the co-design of the ground-breaking new ‘Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot’ (CRISP). This community sponsorship program will enable groups of everyday Australians to take primary responsibility for welcoming and settling 1,500 UNHCR-referred refugees over a four-year period, beginning in 2022.
May The CRISP is launched and it’s a watershed moment in Australia’s history of providing community-led support to refugees. CRSA begins to mobilise groups of everyday Australians in communities around the country who will ‘show up’ for refugee newcomers.
August The first refugee participants in the CRISP program land in Australia, welcomed by Community Supporter Groups.