Home Office says it will resume refugee resettlement in new year - but councils demand more urgency

Local authorities and charities welcome decision to restart arrivals but call for more clarity and commitment

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 10 November 2020 21:06 GMT
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Local authorities and NGOs were informed by the department on Tuesday that the UK would ‘shortly be restarting resettlement’ after the programme was paused in March
Local authorities and NGOs were informed by the department on Tuesday that the UK would ‘shortly be restarting resettlement’ after the programme was paused in March (Stock)

The Home Office has announced that it will restart refugee resettlement early next year, following months of campaigning from charities calling for the process to resume after it was paused in March.

Local authorities and NGOs were informed by the department on Tuesday that the UK will “shortly be restarting resettlement”, and that refugee arrivals were likely to take place “early in the new year”.

But councils have called for more urgency, warning that “delays risk lives” and that they are ready to take in refugee families “as soon as possible”.

It comes days after The Independent reported that some local councils which take in dozens of refugee families each year were considering axing vital services for refugees arriving in the UK, due to the lack of clarity from ministers as to whether the programme was going to resume.

Meanwhile, refugee families who had been due to come to Britain in March told The Independent they have been languishing in developing countries, with many having sold their homes and many of their possessions before their flights, only to be left waiting seven months on.

Kevin Bonavia, Lewisham Council cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability, said: “I’m pleased that the government has now acknowledged the need to restart resettlement after several months of councils and community groups urging it to do so.

“But the situation remains urgent – delays risk lives. For our part in Lewisham we have places ready for refugee families and we will press the Home Office on accepting arrivals as soon as possible.”

Other developed countries have resumed their refugee resettlement schemes after pausing them during the lockdown. Between August and September, 300 refugees arrived in France, while Spain welcomed 140 refugees in September. Between June and September, the US resettled 4,000 refugees.

When UK resettlement was paused in March, there had been plans for more than 600 refugees to arrive, who were subsequently blocked. They were due to fill the remaining spaces on the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), to fulfil the government’s commitment to resettle 20,000 people under the programme by Spring 2020.  A new programme called the UK Resettlement Scheme was then due to start.

The email from the Home Office on Tuesday stated that the department was “keen to fulfil [its] commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees affected by the conflict in Syria" under the VPRS, but it made no reference to the new scheme, which had been due to run from April 2020 to March 2021.

Local councils and charities welcomed the announcement but demanded more clarity as to when the scheme would resume, and commitment from government to go beyond fulfilling its quota for the VPRS and establish a “substantial and long-term" resettlement programme.

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “This is an important first step in ensuring the UK plays its part in protecting those fleeing war and persecution, and a moment of celebration for all those who campaigned tirelessly for this to happen.

“However, the UK was due to resettle 5,000 refugees from April 2020 to March 2021. We hope today is just the beginning of a substantial and effective long-term resettlement programme that refugees so urgently need.”

Peter Barnett, head of service libraries and migration at Coventry Council, said he was glad that resettlement was to resume, but added: “Interesting that they’ve only referred to VPRS. The next question is what about the new global resettlement scheme?”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK’s world leading resettlement programme is resuming following a temporary pause as a result of the pandemic.

“We have been committed to resuming the scheme as soon as possible. We have already resettled over 19,750 refugees through the VPRS and resuming will mean we are able to deliver our commitment to bring 20,000 refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria, to rebuild their lives in safety in the UK. And we will go beyond that as soon as coronavirus circumstances allow.

“We have to help more people directly from the affected regions and that is exactly what we are planning with the new firm and fair asylum system, which will welcome people through safe and legal routes.”

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