In Germany, community sponsorship has been implemented under the "NesT – New Start in a Team" pilot programme since May 2019. Sponsor groups composed of volunteers are responsible for implementing it within the framework established by the Federal Government, whereas Civil Society Contact Points provide information and training to groups interested in applying and to those already selected or matched with refugee families.
The following articles cover the activities of the sponsor group of the St. Gereon parish in the neighborhood of Cologne-Merheim, and the story of Shurook, the first refugee to arrive in Germany via the NeST programme.
Embedded within the framework of activities they were carrying out in the parish neighborhood of Cologne-Merheim as part of this initiative, financed and enabled already by the New Neighbors Campaign, such as the after-school programme providing homework support to 25 pupils, becoming a sponsor group within the NeST community sponsorship programme allowed the members of the parish of St. Gereon to strengthen the welcome culture for refugees and their presence on the ground as well as to involve additional volunteer participants. The group applied to become a sponsor in 2019 and welcomed the first refugees to arrive through the NesT programme – two sisters Shurook and Heba – in November 2019.
With the support of the New Neighbours Campaign, the parish runs a weekly “Lotsenpunkt”, a pilot initiative to help refugees navigate through administrative issues, as well as offering support with language training and finding a job.
However, the New Neighbours Campaign has mainly supported the sponsor group financially by covering the housing costs for the sponsored refugees during the first two years. After the two years, the Social Security office will take over and continue to provide assistance until refugees are able to sustain themselves independently.
“Housing and finance are the two main challenges to face when embarking on a sponsoring journey”, says Ottmar, member of the St. Gereon sponsor group interviewed by the SHARE Network. “Housing in particular is a real issue here, for Cologne is a big city with a big university”, he adds “and finding a place for people who have yet to arrive is even more challenging”. Luckily, the church is equipped with a guest apartment that has been adapted to host newly arrived refugees while looking for more permanent housing.
The experience with the two sisters, Shurook and Heba has been so positive and rewarding that the group has decided to repeat it, also with the support of new volunteers. For instance, a Syrian family who had formerly received assistance from the parish now helps the group with newly arrived refugees. The family will also assist the sponsor group in welcoming the next family arriving soon from Somalia with language support, as they are also fluent in Arabic. “Our group is based on good cooperation and communication”, affirms Ottmar “between our members, the community and the NeST contact points, whose support was very useful at the beginning to receive information and guidance”. The group has also recently started a collaboration with the University of Cologne to pair German students and refugees learning German. “We are very happy with this activity” explains Ottmar “because it gives the opportunity to speak the local language but also to connect and create social relations with young people, often not so represented among sponsors”.
The successful experience of the St. Gereon sponsor group and the inspiring example of Shurook and her sister has thus served as a good example of community engagement to bring about positive change at the local level, also encouraging other groups across Germany to get involved in the NeST programme, express their solidarity and kickstart initiatives benefitting both communities and refugees.
 The civil society contact point (ZKS) is made up of Caritas Germany, the German Red Cross and the Protestant Church of Westphalia. See https://resettlement.de/wp-content/uploads/nest_broschuere_quadratisch_auflage_EN_v03.pdf