Charities that work with refugees have cast doubts on the Government’s commitment to provide routes to safety for people fleeing war and persecution after immigration figures released today reveal just 353 people were resettled under official programmes in the past 12 months.
It’s the lowest number of refugees who have been relocated to the UK in a 12-month period under Government resettlement programmes for at least 11 years.
This compares to 4,968 for the 12 months to March 2020, and 5,796 in 2018/19.
While resettlement programmes were suspended in March 2020, organisations including Refugee Action and Refugee Council were critical of the Government’s painfully slow delay in getting them restarted, with other countries much quicker.
The restart of refugee resettlement was announced in the House of Lords in November, but just eight people were welcomed to the UK between then and the end of 2020.
Resettlement programmes are schemes run by the Government, who work with the United Nations and IOM to identify refugees overseas, such as in countries neighbouring warzones, and relocate them directly to the UK with refugee status already granted.
The Home Office then works with local councils to help people integrate into their communities, find schools for children, and help people rebuild their lives in the UK.
But Refugee Council and Refugee Action say they have very real concerns over the Government’s commitment to resettle a fair number of refugees, despite Priti Patel promising at a speech on Monday an expansion of safe routes for refugees to reach the UK.
The organisations are concerned the Government’s planned changes to its refugee and asylum policy do not commit to resettling a specific number of people, or give a timeframe for how long its resettlement programme will last.
Ministers have repeatedly celebrated the hugely successful Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme set up at the height of the conflict in Syria. The programme benefited from having a specific target of 20,000 people over a five-year period.
Targets are necessary to run a refugee resettlement programme. Government partners, such as local authorities, need certainty and advance notice on the length and scale of resettlement ambitions so they can properly plan multi-year services, while international organisations need to identify people and families most in need of resettlement who are living in refugee camps and cities oversees.
Local authorities in London including Lewisham, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and Southwark wrote to the Home Secretary in November concerned at the lack of clarity, certainty and communication on refugee resettlement programmes.
Cllr Kevin Bonavia, the Cabinet Member for Refugees at Lewisham Council, which has settled 33 families under VPRS in the past four years said the lack of firm commitment by the Government has meant that the Council has already lost local offers of housing for refugee families.
Refugee Council and Refugee Action want the Government to support what the UNHCR has called for and make a long-term commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year. This should be in addition to other safe routes, such as work visa schemes.
Refugees should also be selected for resettlement based only on their need for protection, and not other factors, such as work skills or ability to integrate.
Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive at Refugee Action, said:
“Today’s figures show the Government is continuing to turn its back on people fleeing war and persecution.
“Despite the Home Secretary’s pledge to expand safe routes for people, for the first time in years, there is no commitment to welcome a single refugee under resettlement programmes.
“Resettlement does not run on hot air. It is doomed unless the Government can commit to an ambitious target that shows the world it is prepared to do its fair share to help refugees.”
Enver Solomon, Chief Executive at Refugee Council, said:
“Refugee resettlement provides lifesaving support to people who have beaten the odds to survive unimaginable hardship and desperately need support to restart their lives.
“As the fifth richest country in the world, and one with a successful track record on refugee resettlement, we must do right by those in need of our protection and commit to provide safety to thousands of people through this life changing programme.”
Kevin Bonavia, Cabinet Member for Democracy, Refugees & Accountability, Lewisham Council, said:
“Councils across the UK have demonstrated the success of refugee resettlement in our local communities.
“We are ready and willing to do far more, but the current uncertainty from Government means councils are unable to plan ahead for the necessary housing and integration support arrangements.
“Targets and timings matter if we are to turn goodwill into reality.”
Contact: Colin Parker, media and PR manager at Refugee Action: 07771 748159; firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
- The Government’s Immigration Statistics Quarterly Release, published on 27 May 2021, showed 353 people were resettled under Government schemes in the 12 months to 31 March 2021.
- IOM data for third quarter (July to September) 2020 showed, within Europe, France (307 people), Norway (247), Switzerland (244), Finland (218), Sweden (158), Spain (138), Germany (86), Portugal (42), Denmark (8), Netherlands (3) and Belgium (2) had restarted resettlement post pause for Covid in March 2020.
- The Government’s Immigration Statistics year ending December 2020 show eight people were resettled via Government resettlement schemes in the final quarter of 2020.
- Other London Borough signatories to the open letter were: Brent, Greenwich, Hackney, Ealing, Kingston, Richmond, Merton, Sutton and Tower Hamlets.