The National Audit Office has today reported on the UK Home Office’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme. Back in September 2015, the then-Prime Minister David Cameron made a commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.
- 1,000 Syrian refugees were welcomed into the UK by Christmas 2015.
- 2,659 (13% of the target) were resettled by the end of June 2016.
- 55% of people resettled so far are survivors of torture or violence or both.
Key findings of the NAO report include:
The original programme was expanded “at speed” to achieve the 20,000 the target to resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas 2015. While there was good partnership working across central and local government, strong working relationships with international partners and a concerted effort by all involved, the consensus of those the NAO spoke to indicated that “the programme had been delivered quickly … using unsustainable labour-intensive processes”. The pace of resettlement was scaled back in the early months of 2016 while the processes were redesigned.
118 local authorities across the UK are now involved in the resettlement programme. While the Home Office team has specified what local authorities are responsible for providing during refugees’ first year in the UK, some local authorities were concerned about a lack of clarity around expectations for refugees’ second to fifth years – a deliberate decision to allow local authorities to tailor services according to local circumstances.
The NAO spoke to refugees who told them that they had “received a warm welcome from their new communities”. Their experience of the resettlement programme “has been largely positive, but uncertainty about their status in the UK has caused some anxiety”. However, information provided to them about where they were being resettled was sometimes patchy.
Many refugees are unsure of their rights in the UK and what they are eligible for, including their ability to travel abroad, whether they can apply for family reunion, or what will happen to them at the end of the five-year programme. The NAO recommend that information on travel entitlements, family reunion and status after the fifth year of the programme are disseminated to all local authorities and providers. Addressing refugees’ concerns about limited English language provision would also help them to integrate more quickly.
Overall, the Home Office programme team are confident that they are on track to meet the 20,000 target and there is evidence that the average monthly figures are rising. The NAO find that at the current rate of resettlement, the 2020 target would be missed by 1,680 people, so the average number of people resettled each month will have to rise a little further.
Tthe report notes that it is essential that indicative pledges from local authorities materialise into firm offers of support during the remainder of the programme. Feedback to the NAO indicated that finding accommodation near available school places is a challenge for some local authorities and a risk to the programme.
The community sponsorship initiative launched in July (allowing individuals, charities, faith groups and businesses to directly resettle refugees in addition to local authorities) is “not essential to achieving the 20,000 target, but should contribute to improving the experience of refugees and
their ability to integrate quickly into the UK”.
A separate NAO report looks at international comparisons with other resettlement schemes, in particular those run in Germany and Canada. It notes that the EU’s Emergency Relocation Scheme (which planned to relocate refugees from Greece and Italy who had a high chance of having their applications for asylum successfully processed) did not meet its target of relocating 20,000 people by mid-May 2016. Instead between September 2015 and July 2016, only 3,056 people (15% of the original target) had been relocated.