More than 8,000 Syrian refugees come to UK under plans to resettle 20,000 by 2020

But opposition politicians and campaigners say Government 'could and should' be doing more to help people fleeing war and persecution

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 09 November 2017 01:30
Refugees have said they are grateful for the ‘genuine welcome’ they have received in the UK, but the UN highlights a lack of English language provision and support for housing and gaining employment
Refugees have said they are grateful for the ‘genuine welcome’ they have received in the UK, but the UN highlights a lack of English language provision and support for housing and gaining employment

More than 8,000 refugees have arrived in the UK under the Government’s Syrian resettlement scheme, which has had a “truly transformative” impact on people’s lives, the United Nations has said.

Refugees have said they are grateful for the “genuine welcome” they have received in the UK, and are heartened that their children have been able to attend school and catch up on lost education, according to the report from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The study comes two years after ministers committed to taking in 20,000 Syrians driven from the war-torn country by 2020, following a public outcry over the fate of those attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

But while the UNHCR is largely positive about the UK’s resettlement scheme, it highlights a number of areas for improvement, including in English language provision, and further support for housing and finding work.

A small number of the refugees interviewed for the study had found work, but the UNHCR said existing work promotion schemes were limited, highlighting the need for further support to refugees on the road to employment.

Other proposals included strengthening the provision of appropriate housing by the central Government, after the study found the stock of affordable rental property was small and diminishing, as well as making family reunification planning more integral.

Despite the apparently high numbers, the UK still lags behind other European countries when it comes to the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said the Government would ”no doubt pat itself on the back” for the latest figures, but argued that Britain is still not taking its fair share of Syrian refugees, and ”could and should” shelter thousands more people fleeing war and persecution in Syria.

“We are living through the worst refugee crisis on record. As well as resettling refugees from the camps in Syria the Government must do more to help those who have made perilous journeys to get here, especially lone children,” he said.

“It is inexcusable that Ministers have still not fulfilled their promise to take in 450 lone child refugees under the Dubs Scheme. These children are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse and we have a duty to help them.”

Refugee charities welcomed the high numbers of Syrians who have been brought to the UK as part of the programme, but said more investment is required to ensure refugees have timely access to English language classes so that they can integrate and find work.

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “Brits should feel proud that thousands of families have already been welcomed as part of this programme. But it’s essential that refugees resettled here are given the right support to successfully rebuild their lives.

“It’s no surprise UNHCR highlights that support for refugees to learn English must be improved. Our research shows current provision isn’t fit for purpose and that refugees can wait up to three years to start learning.

“More investment is needed to ensure all refugees in Britain have timely access to English language classes. Giving refugees the chance to integrate, find jobs and volunteer is a no-brainer.”

The Refugee Council highlighted that while the resettlement scheme has had a “transformative impact”, it remains restricted, with a lack of family reunion options keeping relatives who have been “torn apart by war” unable to live together.

Maurice Wren, chief executive at the charity, said: “The Refugee Council has first-hand experience of the truly transformative impact that refugee resettlement schemes have on people’s lives.

“Refugee resettlement is something the UK does extremely well and we urge the Government to continue doing so, at least current levels and ideally, beyond.

“We also urge the Government to improve refugee family reunion as a matter of urgency. As it currently stands refugee families are torn apart by war and then kept apart by restrictive UK policy.

“For people who have already experienced untold horrors, this enforced separation is heart-breaking and we urge the Government to change this.”

Summarising the report’s findings, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, the UNHCR’s representative in London, said the UK “clearly has the capacity to resettle meaningful numbers of refugees”, adding that support for the scheme from the Government, local authorities and the British public has been “striking”.

“Integration of refugees is complex. By and large it is working, and support for integration – from the public, local authorities and Government – has been striking,” he said.

“We hope that, with development, this model can help more refugees, from Syria and elsewhere, resettle here after 2020. Our hope is that, building on the success of the VPRS to date, the UK will commit to resettling 10,000 vulnerable refugees a year.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK is now resettling people on an unprecedented scale and resettled more refugees than any other country in the EU in 2016.

“Over 8,500 people, half of whom are children, have already arrived on the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme and are rebuilding their lives in the UK.

“We recognise that refugees need to be helped to integrate into society and we have put in place significant measures to ensure this can happen. On English language skills specifically, this has included providing £10 million to help local authorities make sure more tuition is available and introducing measures to ensure refugees have access to eight hours’ formal tuition a week.”

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