Local Authority inaction harming UK resettlement of Syrian refugees

Home Affairs Committee report on refugeesA comprehensive report on the Migration Crisis from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has cast doubt that the UK Government will meet its commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees from the region around Syria by 2020.

The report publishes for the first time the number of Syrian refugees resettled in each local authority area. These figures show many Local Authorities (LAs) are not pulling their weight in resettling Syrian refugees, and there is scant evidence that the Government is on track to meet its commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020. The Committee says Ministers should show leadership by encouraging their own constituency LAs to take refugees.

The report calls on the Government to accept the 157 unaccompanied children in Calais into the UK immediately to be reunited with their family members already in the country. The committee also asks the Government to clarify whether it’s approach towards an expansion of safe and legal routes, such as humanitarian visas, for those from conflict regions seeking protection.

Some high level findings from the full report (PDF):

Managing migration flows

Migration into Europe has been a long-standing challenge for EU countries, including the UK. However, the situation has now become a crisis, in large part because of the Syrian war, and the continuing instability in Libya and other parts of north Africa. Although current migration flows are a continuation of patterns that have ebbed and changed over many years, the current numbers of people seeking to move into Europe are unprecedented in modern times. The Archbishop of Canterbury has described the scale of the crisis as “colossal”. Syrian refugees present the most acute and numerous challenge, but there are other countries from which migrants continue to flow in large numbers. (Paragraph 46)

On the situation at Calais:

The situation in Calais and elsewhere on the French side of the Channel coast is a manifestation of the wider problem across Europe. The number of migrants in Calais is relatively small compared to the flows entering Europe and being managed by other countries. However, there is a potential threat to UK security, and the ongoing challenge to migration controls which this aspect of illegal migration presents remains of serious concern to us. The Home Office must continue to adapt its response to cross-Channel illegal migration to reflect changes in methods and routes used by migrant smugglers. It must also work actively with EU countries and agencies to tackle the root causes of people gathering in the Calais area with the aim of crossing to the UK. (Paragraph 26)

We require much more information on the work the French and UK governments are undertaking to improve conditions at the camps, and to ensure all who are entitled to humanitarian protection or refugee status obtain it—and are able to do so swiftly. The Government should set out what fraction of the sums invested in Calais have been used in this way, as opposed to strengthening border security. Ultimately, we are yet to see any evidence of a strategy designed to deliver a long-term solution to the presence of these camps, and both governments must work together urgently to deliver one. (Paragraph 35)

The EU and its Member States failed to anticipate the scale of migrant flows, and did not have the structures and mechanisms in place to cope. As a result, the EU has been too slow to respond in a coordinated way. The EU’s March 2016 agreement with Turkey on return of migrants is arguably a first step towards a meaningful response but it has come far too late and is itself highly controversial for a number of reasons. Further action is urgently required to ensure that vulnerable people seeking refuge do not suffer further exploitation by criminals, accompanied by fear, harm and the current high risk of death. (Paragraph 47)

Resettlement of Syrian refugees

The UK Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme has started well, and there are signs that the co-operation necessary between central Government, local authorities, and the various agencies involved is working efficiently. We reiterate our support for the Government’s commitment to receive 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 and our appreciation of the efforts of all those who worked to achieve the target of 1,000 arriving by Christmas 2015, and we commend the then Minister for Syrian Refugees for achieving this. (Paragraph 57)

However, it is clear from the recently published statistics that more local authorities need to contribute to providing asylum accommodation, including for Syrian refugees. There is now a two-tier system among local authorities, with some providing support to Syrian refugees and others not doing so. A similar two-tier system applies in the level of support local authorities provide for other asylum-seekers. The Government needs to be much more proactive in encouraging a fair distribution of asylum seekers throughout the country and Ministers should take the lead on this, by encouraging their own local authorities to take their fair share of refugees. (Paragraph 58)

Those who come to the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme are only given humanitarian protection for five years. We are concerned that the Government appears to be moving towards a system of limited time periods for providing refuge, which may not wholly meet its obligations under the 1951 UN Convention on the status of refugees. The situation in Syria should be reviewed comprehensively once the five-year point is approaching for any refugee. (Paragraph 59)

Safe and legal routes into Europe

The Government has said that it will not take part in the current EU schemes to relocate or resettle refugees. This is because it does not wish to participate in any initiative that might act as a magnet for those seeking refuge and thereby encourage them to risk taking dangerous routes to try to reach the UK. We accept this approach. In these circumstances, we would ask the Government to explain whether it is considering any expansion of safe and legal routes, such as humanitarian visas, for those from conflict regions seeking protection, as advocated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a wide range of expert NGOs and others. The Government should also make clear how its response to the migrant crisis is providing protection for refugees other than Syrians in the UK, without provision in place for them to travel to the UK to apply for asylum. (Paragraph 65)

The Chair of Migration Watch, Lord Green of Deddington, accepted in evidence to us that the UK is not yet “full” in relation to migration. The Archbishop of Canterbury agreed that the UK was not full and believed that, with “careful preparation and good policy”, including the necessary resources being provided to local communities, the UK had the capacity to fulfil its moral obligation to accept more refugees fleeing war zones and catastrophes, as well as asylum-seekers. We share this view. (Paragraph 67)

Family reunion and unaccompanied child migrants

We accept the Government’s concern that allowing unaccompanied children to join family members already in the UK might create a “pull factor”, resulting in more vulnerable young people making dangerous journeys to try to reach the UK. We appreciate that these are sensitive and complex matters and that proper account needs to be taken of the legal and safeguarding requirements in the countries where unaccompanied children are currently located. We also acknowledge that some progress is being made on this. However, we agree with the Bishop of Durham that the 157 unaccompanied children already in Calais who have family members in the UK “should already have arrived” in the UK. The Government should, as a one-off action, accept all of these children into the UK now. (Paragraph 131)

Family reunion of migrants has been shown to have benefits in terms of integration and support networks, in addition to the human rights requirements of allowing families to be together, and there is clear scope for further measures to facilitate women and children joining husbands, fathers and other male relatives who have reached the UK. We recommend that the UK Government increase its use of family reunion visas for refugee asylum cases, to make it easier for applications to be made in countries of origin and to help avoid women and children feeling obliged to attempt high-risk and illegal travel to Europe in order to be reunited with male relatives. We also recommend that the UK broaden the scope of family reunion rules, and work with expert NGOs to make it easier (including through provision of legal aid) and speedier for applications for family reunion visas to be made, particularly in countries of origin or their vicinity. (Paragraph 135)

Missing child migrants

Europol estimates that there are 85,000 unaccompanied minors amongst the migrant population in the EU. We were astonished to hear reports that large numbers of these children go missing from reception centres shortly after arrival and that they then face abuse, sexual assault and discrimination. At least 10,000 minors are estimated to have gone missing since arriving in Europe. EU countries must do more to protect these highly vulnerable young people. The Government has announced a £10 million Refugee Children Fund for vulnerable children in the EU. This should be used, and if necessary augmented, to ensure that effective support and protection are provided, and that this extremely serious problem is properly addressed. (Paragraph 140)