Resettling Syrian refugees

With Europe reeling under the refugee crisis, Samantha Hill of the Home Office outlined the UK asylum policy to resettle Syrian refugees

The UK’s Justice and Home Affairs opt out of EU legislation enables it to set its own asylum policy rather than taking refugee quotas agreed by other European nations.

However on a visit to Jordan, Prime Minister Cameron announced that the UK Government was expanding its Syrian Vulnerable Person Scheme and would take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this Parliament, amounting to 4,000 refugees annually.

Focusing on the most vulnerable, Syrian refugees would be resettled directly from the camps in neighbouring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Those prioritised will be:

  • Those who cannot be supported in their region of origin
  • Women and children at risk
  • People in severe need of medical care
  • Survivors of torture and violence

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement in September, a task force was set up and a Minister for Refugees, Richard Harrington, was appointed to oversee the programme.

The unit was given an initial target of settling 1,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, which is a fourfold increase on the existing scheme which resettled 250 vulnerable Syrians over a period 18 months.

International Partners
The unit works closely with UNHCR and the IOM who are the main partners in the region to deliver the resettlement programme. The UNHCR does background checks and gathers extensive data, which the Home Office uses to make its own checks.

The unit also works closely with the host governments to simplify exit procedures for refugees and shares best practice with other major “resettlement” countries including Australia, Canada, the US, Sweden and Germany.

Trilateral team
A trilateral departmental team has been set up to deliver the programme. This includes the Home Office which oversees the refugees’ entry to the UK; the Department for Communities and Local Government who will liaise with local authorities that are providing social housing, school places, medical care and English language classes for the refugees; and DfID, which will provide the funding to meet the resettlement costs from the Overseas Development Aid budget.

Planning for the long term
Resettlement is only the beginning of the process, Hill emphasised. The programme will only be truly successful if in four years time these families have managed to make a life for themselves and integrated into the community.

Once the first target to resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees is reached, the unit will be exploring “community sponsorship” strategies so that the resettlement is not regarded as imposed at state level but is “owned” by the community.

Samantha Hill