The Home Affairs Select Committee has expressed serious concerns over the ability of the Prime Minister to keep his promise to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 and urged the Government to clarify what measures will be put in place to meet the target.
In a report published last week, the Home Affairs Select Committee analysed data on the work of the Home Office Immigration Directorates and concluded that based on past performance, the UK might not be ready to receive as many 4,000 Syrians refugees a year and the Government’s plans are unrealistic.
Between 2009 and 2014, the UK resettled an average of 982 refugees per year, with the highest number being 1,039 refugees resettled in 2012, under various resettlement schemes. In the past 18 months, only 216 Syrian refugees were resettled in the UK under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, the special resettlement scheme for vulnerable Syrians set up by the Government in January 2014.
Now the Government wants to resettle 20,000 refugees in five years. This would mean resettling an average of 333 Syrian refugees per month and in the absence of a realistic five-years plan, it is unclear how the Government intends to achieve this, especially when it comes to providing refugees with appropriate accommodation and support. The chair of the C=committee, Keith Vaz expressed concerns over the UK’s ‘real level of preparedness and ability to increase capacity to manage such numbers at short notice’ and said that the Government’s ‘continual refusal to tell the Committee how many Syrian refugees have arrived [since the Prime Minister’s pledge] undermines Parliament’s ability to scrutinise progress’.
In addition to doubting the UK’s level of ‘preparedness’, the committee also criticised the UK’s lack of participation and cooperation when it comes to the redistribution of Syrian refugees at international level. It noted that the Government is hiding behind its ‘20,000 by 2020 target’ to avoid taking responsibility for the 130,000 Syrian refugees worldwide that need to be resettled by the end of 2016.
Similarly, the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme is being used as a way of opting out of a wider international scheme led by the UNHCR for the resettlement of Syrian refugees. The absence of a set number of refugees to be resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme means that the UK can decide to take in as little as 216 Syrians in18 months without having to answer to the UNHCR or to those Countries who operate under the international scheme. The Committee urged the Government to be ‘open and transparent’ about its intentions as ‘failure to do so will allow [the public and the UK’s European partners] to believe that there is another agenda’.
Following its findings, the Committee made a series of recommendations to the Government, which included the prompt set up of a domestic apparatus to facilitate the resettlement of Syrian refugees and the publication of the exact number of Syrians the UK intends to take by the end of 2016. The Committee also recommended that the Government reconsiders the involvement of private individuals in the provision of on-going support to refugees and the Committee’s Chair said that ‘offers of private accommodation will be a helpful, viable and perhaps essential part of the solution’.
The full report is available here.
Caterina is a Solicitor at Wilson Solicitors LLP. She specialises in immigration, asylum and human rights law. She volunteers for the Liberty Advice Line.