"Hand in hand from the beginning" — that’s the motto of a new pilot program for the resettlement of 500 vulnerable refugees to Germany. Serving as “mentors,” groups of people commit to helping refugees find a new home and improve overall conditions for integration. In Canada and the UK, comparable community sponsor programs have existed for years.
A new German resettlement program titled NesT (“Neustart im Team”, or “a team for starting over") wants to provide a new home for an initial 500 refugees who are in particular need for protection: victims of torture or rape, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women or frail people. The crux: teams of “mentors” — individuals, associations and other members of civil society — will guide and support them in every aspect of life.
At a launch event in Berlin on Monday, different stakeholders presented the program. The way it stands out — at least in Germany — is that the government and civil society will work hand in hand from the get-go: Groups of at least five mentors are supposed to help one individual or one family with their arrival and support them financially and offering advice to help navigate their new situation.
“NesT sends a strong signal of solidarity put into practice,” Annette Widmann-Mauz, Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, said at the event. “Mentors help with running errands, apartment-hunting and finding apprenticeship or jobs, thereby facilitating the successful societal integration.”
Beneficiaries of the resettlement program receive resettlement-refugee status and a residence permit for at least three years, which can be renewed. They are also entitled to welfare and educational opportunities including language courses.
“In principle, the first refugees could arrive as soon as late summer,” UNHCR Germany representative Dominik Bartsch told InfoMigrants, sadding that it depends on finding enough mentor groups and training them in time. “Right now, we have all the basic parameters for the program in place. I’m really encouraged by the positive sentiment around it, by the spirit of collaboration between different entities of government, civil society.”
Currently, 1.4 million refugees worldwide have been identified by the UNHCR as in need for resettlement, the majority of them Syrian, South Sudanese and Yemeni. “They have found protection as refugees in neighboring countries,” Bartsch said. “But they still experience major challenges and would really benefit from resettlement to a third country.”
NesT is a complementary program to the EU resettlement scheme, whose goal is to bring at least 50,000 people in need of protection to Europe in 2018/2019. Germany has pledged to take in 10,200 of those 50,000.
The centerpiece of NesT is community sponsorship by mentors from civil society. The groups of five must commit to finding ‘their’ refugee a suitable place to live and pay the rent for two years. As the refugee’s main contact persons, they can also foster social participation. The hope is that this ‘guided’ approach will lead to an improved and faster integration.
A recent study by the European Commission titled "feasibility and added value of sponsorship schemes as a possible pathway to safe channels for admission to the EU, including resettlement" found that the number of different sponsorship schemes has "proliferated across the EU."
To help mentors do their job, a new “civic contact point” (“Zivilgesellschaftliche Kontaktstelle,” ZKS) will provide information on the project and trainings for mentors. Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) is responsible for the operational implementation of resettlement procedures and, therefore, NesT. Other partners include the Federal Ministry of the Interior, both the Catholic and Protestant churches, the German Red Cross and the Bertelsmann Foundation and the UNHCR.
Bartsch is confident that enough members of civil society will step forward. “Once the program is formally established, has gained recognition and has become known, we will see many more who would like to sponsor resettled refugees.”
Will funds dry up?
Money for NesT comes from the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). The total of €3.137 billion in funding, €500 million of which is was earmarked for said EU resettlement scheme, however, will end in November this year.
“I’m confident funding will come up after that,” Bartsch told InfoMigrants when asked about AMIF. “Right now, it’s really important to demonstrate the utility and the impact of the community sponsorship program.”
The NesT resettlement program builds on experiences other states have made in recent years, including Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program, launched in 1978, which offers several ways to sponsor refugees including so-called Groups of Five, which NesT is modeled on. Another model program is a two-year-old community sponsorship scheme in the UK that aims at helping grassroots groups offer a fresh start to refugees in the greatest need.
The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GSRI) as well as the campaigns for refugees including "Save me," "Start with a friend" and the "Flüchtlingspaten Syrien" (“refugees godparents Syria”) also served as a blueprint.
According to Bartsch, the “main pillars” of NesT were put together in less than a year. He hopes that the implementation, and eventually the expansion, will grow equally quickly. A potential continuation or adoption of the program depends on the evaluation of the pilot phase by the BAMF’s research center, according to the government.