33.The issue of vulnerability lies at the core of resettlement decisions. As Francois Reybet-Degat of the UNHCR told us:
resettlement is one of the three durable solutions along with voluntary repatriation and local integration. It is a very important durable solution insofar as it targets the most vulnerable. It is a sensitive one not just because of the vulnerability, but because it is one that is only available to a minority of the refugees.
34.Given that the 20,000 quota is around 0.5% of the total number of registered refugees in the region, it is all the more important that those receiving refugees act in accordance with UNHCR processes and target resettlement towards the most vulnerable refugees. Sanjayan Srikanthan of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned that the risk for the most vulnerable, particularly women and girls, is that they are often forgotten when it comes to assistance. The challenge for the Government and its partners, chiefly UNHCR, therefore lies in ensuring that the processes for identifying and assisting the most vulnerable refugees are robust enough to reach those most in need.
35.While the focus of this inquiry has been on refugees within reach of the resettlement scheme in neighbouring countries, we acknowledge that the majority of the worst affected and most vulnerable are those within Syria itself. In addition to the direct threat of the conflict—over 240,000 people have been killed, more than a third of them civilians—basic services are in a state of collapse. The water infrastructure in particular has come under repeated attack and the health system is struggling (an estimated 60% of hospitals have been damaged). The economy has contracted by an estimated 40% since 2011 affecting livelihoods, depleting savings and increasing dependence on aid. As a result, some 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance—10% more than at this time last year. In written evidence, the International Committee of the Red Cross told us:
The escalating conflict, and new conflict patterns are triggering, and will continue to trigger, displacement - some of which will mean more refugees - but those most vulnerable will remain in Syria itself.
Fig 4: DFID funding for activities in Syria and the region by country since 2012
36.50% of DFID’s aid to the crisis has been spent within Syria, with around £128 million being provided to the World Food Programme alone to help combat food insecurity and malnutrition. We commend DFID’s efforts to ensure that assistance reaches those in need within Syria despite the significant operational challenges in doing so.
37.In written evidence, John Ging of UNOCHA told us that inaccessibility is a major barrier to providing necessary levels of support. Some 4.6 million people, including 2 million children, live in hard-to-reach locations and so far this year, only around a quarter of those in need in these areas have been reached each month—some of whom have not even had all their basic needs met.
38.Matthew Wyatt, DFID Deputy Director for the Middle East discussed the operational challenges associated with access:
The problem in reaching the most vulnerable is when they are in those areas where there is either active conflict or where parties to the conflict, particularly ISIL [Daesh], just make it impossible to work. That is the biggest constraint that we are facing
39.We note the Resolution of the House (2 December) supporting action against Daesh in Syria, including through air strikes. We warmly welcome the House’s support for the Government’s humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees. The recent escalation of military efforts will have an impact on conditions faced by civilians in Syria, and may well make it more difficult for DFID and other agencies to deliver humanitarian aid. The UK must do all it can to mitigate the risk of worsening the humanitarian situation. The potential humanitarian consequences of protracted military engagement must be a driving force for The UK Government in pressing for ceasefire and political settlement through the vehicle of the Vienna talks.
40.While it is difficult to ascertain precise figures, Francois Reybet-Degat told us that across the region around 90% of Syrian refugees reside outside of camps in urban and rural areas. Moreover, the majority of the most vulnerable are outside camps. Various organisations expressed concerns regarding the unique challenges faced by refugees not based in camps, including but not limited to:
Sanjayan Srikanthan told us that:
The reason refugees select urban settings where they are less visible is very much that reason of dignity, and about trying to return to some sort of normality as they had before the conflict. […]The risk, particularly for the most vulnerable, and particularly for women and girls, is that they are often forgotten when it comes to aid and risks of exploitation.
41.In its written evidence, World Vision acknowledged the challenges of assessing refugee vulnerabilities, particularly in host communities, but asserted that this should not be a rationale for focusing on camps in identifying resettlement cases. Francois Reybet-Degat reassured us that this is not the case:
The question of the location of the refugee does not come as a prime criterion. Actually, a minimal amount of submissions for resettlements come from people residing in camps.
This was confirmed in UNHCR’s written evidence, which stated that of all Syrians that have been submitted by UNHCR for resettlement consideration, 1.1% were camp-based while 98.9% were based outside of camps. This is a strong indication that the reach of UNHCR resettlement referral processes extends beyond the camps and into the host communities which we commend.
42.UNHCR’s resettlement criteria focus on vulnerability. The fact that almost 99% of resettlement referrals come from host communities suggests that this is where the most vulnerable are concentrated. UNHCR told us that approximately 45% of its expenditure in Jordan is for Syrian refugees in camps, despite hosting only 17% of the Syrian refugee population. We are concerned about the implication that the most vulnerable refugees, those based in host communities, are receiving a disproportionately low share of UNHCR funding.
43.In 2014, our predecessor Committee recommended that DFID ensure that an appropriate share of aid reaches host communities. We welcome DFID’s approach of directing approximately 75% of overall humanitarian assistance towards host communities. However, major aid agencies such as UNHCR, which are a conduit for much of the UK’s financial support, should be doing the same. DFID should press all UN agencies and NGOs, particularly the major UK aid recipients, to ensure that vulnerable refugees outside of camps receive an appropriate level of support. This must include directing resources towards refugees in host communities because they are the most vulnerable and have disproportionately suffered from cuts to humanitarian assistance.
44.Most Syrian refugees will have some degree of vulnerability given the situation that they have fled, and it is important that the definition of vulnerability not be limited to any particular group or set of groups. Chatham House warned that a group-based, rather than individual needs-based, approach to resettlement would have serious implications for the UK’s reputation in Syria and the wider region. UNHCR strongly emphasised their “strictly needs-based and non-discriminatory approach” both in written and oral evidence. However, much of the evidence we received indicates that vulnerability is not evenly spread across all refugees, and that certain groups are subject to conditions that heighten the risks they face.
45.For this inquiry, we looked at four sub-groups of Syrian refugees that face particular challenges in the region: refugees with disabilities, refugees from the LGBT community, Christian and religious minority refugees and children. While this is not an exhaustive list and there are a number of other groups subject to high vulnerability, these were the most prevalent groups emerging from the written evidence submitted to the inquiry.
46.Some Syrian refugees, particularly those from the LGBT community, are vulnerable because they do not have access to emotional and financial support networks. These networks are key in maintaining a refugee’s physical and mental well-being. The criminalisation of same-sex sexual acts in host countries, for example Lebanon’s ‘morality laws’, contributes to the prevalence of homophobia and transphobia. There is evidence that this can result in LGBT refugees being ostracised from these vital sources of support.
47.While most refugees can count on support from their friends, family members and neighbours, Haley Bobseine from Human Rights Watch told us that many LGBT refugees face continued persecution from other members of the refugee community and their families. She also commented on barriers that LGBT refugees face in accessing basic services—refugees in Lebanon can often face discrimination when accessing health and other services. There have been initiatives by organisations and ad hoc groups to assist LGBT refugees who are lacking in support. Evidence suggests that access to these specialised services may be limited because, particularly in Turkey, such services are concentrated around major cities and are not provided in rural areas where many refugees are located.
48.We heard that the fear of persecution, particularly among Christians, leads many refugees to avoid refugee camps. In her evidence, Zoe Smith of Open Doors UK stressed the nature of this fear and explained the reasons that many Christians do not feel safe entering camps:
Syrian society, whilst it was rightly celebrated for its pluralism, was also quite structured and there were quite a lot of conflicts between the different groups in society. […] The UNHCR camps generally have a Sunni majority, so they tend to dictate the culture of the camps, which is not a bad thing per se, but if your culture is different then you stand out and you are more easily a target, which makes you nervous to go there.
Barnabas Fund argued that there is a history of militant groups “dominating and controlling” refugee camps in past regional conflicts, and that this adds to the feeling of danger perceived by Syrian Christians. As we have noted, not being within a camp does not exclude refugees from consideration for resettlement. However, evidence suggests that refugees in host communities are less visible to the relevant authorities.
49.Save the Children stressed that the problem lies not just in the avoidance of camps but in the under-engagement in the UNHCR registration process altogether. Under registration is particularly problematic among certain groups - the most vulnerable are often not registered with UNHCR and there is significant confusion and distrust of the registration process. While figures are unreliable, estimates and media reports suggest that there may be as many as 200,000 to 400,000 unregistered Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone. Evidence from Lebanon suggests that under registration arises from barriers to access, including: lack of information, misconceptions about the process, and physical access due to issues with transport and mobility. Crucially, it seems that these barriers may affect some groups disproportionately.
50.Under registration—coupled with an under reporting of circumstances that may characterise vulnerability—is a particular concern as regards refugees with disabilities. A Handicap International (HI) survey in 2014 found that 20% of refugees in Lebanon suffered from some sort of impairment (6% with a severe impairment), while just 1.4% of UNHCR-registered refugees in Lebanon were recorded as having a disability. Aleema Shivji of HI told us that this disparity reflects the difficulties inherent in reporting certain types of disabilities, such as intellectual impairments, mental health problems, or hearing impairments. As Ms. Shivji succinctly put it:
They are hidden, they are not visible and they are not picked up in registration systems.
Despite the difficulties in doing so, recognising and recording such disabilities at the point of registration is essential to ensuring refugees receive due care. This represents a key facet of addressing the needs of vulnerable refugees.
Fig 5: Under-reporting of Disabilities
Source: UNHCR Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal and Handicap International/Help the Aged International
51.Richard Harrington MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State jointly at the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Department for International Development, told us that, as part of the resettlement programme, UK officials receive a daily report of the people going through the system detailing any vulnerability categories they belong to. The Minister also identified the potential for the UK Government to contribute to and improve the work of UNHCR, as he told us in reference to its processes:
We have a good relationship with UNHCR and I believe they really are doing their best, but if there are gaps in it, it is not like they are going to tell us to go away.
52.The risks faced by anyone that has been forced to flee their home are substantial. However, in the context of the Syrian crisis, certain groups are affected in ways that heighten their vulnerability. For these people resettlement is an appropriate and durable solution. We commend the UNHCR and their commitment to ensuring that processes for identifying the vulnerable are robust in an extremely complex environment with significant operational challenges. Yet evidence indicated non-registration by certain vulnerable groups, who prefer to stay outside official UN camps, is occurring and that, despite best efforts, it appears that under-registration may well also be an issue. We recommend that the Government continue to carefully monitor the profiles of cases referred for resettlement, including, where possible, demographics, sexuality, religion, disability status, and the location from which refugees have been selected and whether from within or outside official UN camps. Such monitoring outputs should be fed back to UNHCR to identify any groups that are underrepresented in referrals and establish and execute action to remedy this, thus ensuring that UNHCR’s principle of equal access is realised.
53.We are seriously concerned about the Government of Lebanon’s decision in May 2015 to ban UNHCR from registering Syrian refugees. As a result, refugees crossing the border into Lebanon in the last six months have been unable to access international assistance and protection, making them more vulnerable and less identifiable. Minister Harrington told us:
We are asking the Lebanese Government if they will allow renewal of registration. If people are not registered, we do not want them to be discriminated against because they are not registered.
54.Lebanese authorities have stated that the ban would remain in place until a new mechanism for the registration of refugees is established. Yet in the meantime, the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon has actually fallen by over 100,000 since its peak in April 2015. We are gravely concerned about the fate of these missing refugees as well those who have been denied registration and thus access to support.
55.We are concerned about the ban that has forced the UNCHR to stop registering new refugees in Lebanon and the implications this has for refugees’ access to support. We urge DFID to press the Lebanese Government harder to allow the resumption of registration processes. Given that it has ordered the ban until a new registration mechanism is established, DFID should consult with Lebanese authorities to identify any objections to the previous processes and ensure that solutions are identified so that registrations can resume as soon as possible.
My name is Subhi Nahas. I am from Idlib, Syria, a small city of one and a half million residents north of Damascus. I am a refugee and I am gay. In 2011, at the start of the uprising in Syria, government media launched a campaign accusing all dissidents of being homosexuals. Soon after, authorities waged systematic raids on locales where gay people met. Many were arrested and tortured. Some were never heard from again.
The arrests and executions continued unnoticed by the outside world. Then in 2014, after ISIL [Daesh] took over, it stepped up the violent attacks on suspected LGBTI people, publishing images of their exploits. At the executions, hundreds of townspeople, including children, cheered jubilantly as at a wedding. If a victim did not die after being hurled off a building, the townspeople stoned him to death. This was to be my fate too.
Two months later, I seized the chance to escape to Lebanon, where I stayed for six months. I then moved to Hatay, Turkey, where I worked as an interpreter for other Syrians. As a refugee and a gay man, I am proud to be assisting LGBTI and other vulnerable refugees.
Box 3: Refugee Voices - Khaldoon Sinjab, Quadriplegic refugee from Ain Tarma, Syria
I am Khaldoon Sinjab, a quadriplegic Syrian refugee who breathes depending on electric ventilator. I left Syria in 2013 when the war reached my town of “Ain Tarma” near Damascus. I am an IT developer and a server administrator. Using my mouth, the only muscle working in my body, I have been working for several companies through the internet since 1999.
After the rebels took over the town, “Ain Tarma” came under siege and bombardment. Electricity was cut off and my diesel generator stopped working so we had to leave for Lebanon. I need daily care by a trained person to feed, clean and give me a bath. I also need daily physiotherapy. Caring for me, is a very hard, time consuming and expensive task.
The situation is difficult here in Lebanon for my family as Syrian refugees and for me as a quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent. In Lebanon, electricity, communications and healthcare, which are critical for my survival, are not at all adequate. As a family with special, exceptional circumstances, we are looking for a permanent solution to our on-going sufferings. Therefore, I am seeking to live in a developed country that can provide me with an adequate environment. My dependence on both electricity and internet to survive makes Lebanon a country that cannot provide even the basic needs for my survival. All I want is an adequate environment to breathe and live.
56.Children have been consistently identified as one of the refugee groups most at risk. Around 7.6 million Syrian children (within and outside the country) need humanitarian assistance, close to 80% of Syria’s child population. George Graham of Save the Children described increasingly prevalent effects of displacement that characterise children’s vulnerability. These include child labour (with its associated health and education risks), early marriage (which often exposes girls to violence, sexual abuse, risk of early pregnancy and dangerous births), and access to education.
57.We welcome the education of Syrian child refugees being identified as a priority for the Government, as well as the broader focus on children through the No Lost Generation Initiative (NLGI). DFID informed us that its funding has helped to provide education for a quarter of a million children, both within Syria itself and in the refugee-hosting countries.
58.We welcome DFID’s efforts but have also heard evidence that as of March 2015, approximately 752,000 (57%) school-age Syrian refugees are still not participating in either formal or informal education. It is not only the immediate impacts of the crisis on children that are of grave concern to us, but equally the potentially lifelong effects. The longer these children spend out of school, the more likely the crisis is to undermine their future life opportunities. While this is a significant challenge, it is one that can be overcome with appropriate strategies and adequate funding. As George Graham phrased it:
there are children who have not been in school for nearly five years, and that has just destroyed a generation. […] no child should be out of school for more than a month as a consequence of the crisis, because it is just a technical problem; it is fixable.
In the absence of adequate education provision, seemingly short-term effects of the crisis on children can turn into lifelong vulnerabilities. This must not be allowed to happen.
59.Even in situations where refugees do have access to education, there are concerns about its quality, particularly beyond primary level. In written evidence, Professor Dawn Chatty of the University of Oxford referred to youths dropping out of high school due to the poor quality of education. Jordanian families have expressed concerns about decreased quality of education for their children as a result of shortened class times and overcrowded classrooms, and this has been a source of tension between refugees and host communities. Chatham House emphasised that the vulnerabilities faced by young Syrians, coupled with limited future prospects due to a lack of quality education, increase the appeal of radicalisation. Education is a key preventative measure against radicalisation.
60.We heard of major concerns regarding the legal status of children, particularly those who have been born to refugee parents who cannot register them because they lack the necessary paperwork. UNHCR estimate that of over 36,000 children born to Syrian refugee parents in Lebanon between March 2011 and September 2014, 70% of them lack official birth certificates, effectively rendering them stateless. Beyond the vulnerabilities inherent in their immediate situation, these children are likely to suffer from ongoing vulnerability throughout their childhood and potentially their lifetimes. Elsewhere in the world, for example the situation of the Rohingya in South East Asia, experience indicates serious implications of statelessness for refugee children: a lack of legal status makes it difficult for parents to access healthcare and education on their children’s behalf. This exacerbates disadvantage as the impact of malnutrition, illiteracy, lack of access to labour markets and healthcare, vulnerability to violence and abuse, insecurity and risk of forced migration, becomes greater. The lack of registration or legal recognition of the offspring of refugees is a serious threat to the lifetime development of these children and the matter should be given due attention, particularly in light of the UK’s commitment to the NLGI.
61.UNHCR have recorded over 800,000 sea arrivals of refugees/migrants in European countries so far in 2015 - almost a four-fold increase on the total figure for 2014 - of which, around 20% have been children. According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Welfare, 13,000 unaccompanied children arrived in 2014, of whom almost 4,000 subsequently disappeared. These children are clearly some of the most vulnerable refugees this crisis has created. We are concerned that those that have disappeared may have been the victims of people traffickers who force them into prostitution, child labour or the drugs trade. Save the Children commented:
From the moment they leave their country of origin or refugee camp, throughout their journey to Europe, their situation is one of ongoing vulnerability.
Not all of the vulnerable children that arrive in Europe are Syrian. Yet the vulnerabilities that affect many Syrian children also affect those that have come from other places, and these children are no less deserving of adequate humanitarian protection.
62.Save the Children have led calls for 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe to be resettled in the UK in addition to the 20,000 Syrians accepted under the VPRS. Following the announcement of the expansion of the VPRS on 7 September 2015, the Prime Minister announced that the Government will “continue to discuss” the Save the Children proposal. In reference to the proposal, Minister for Syrian Refugees Richard Harrington MP said in evidence on 24 November 2015 that:
It is under discussion. […] At the moment, I cannot report any further progress on it, but we are very aware.
63.We are gravely concerned about the situation for Syrian child refugees and we commend DFID’s commitment to helping them, both within the region through the No Lost Generation Initiative and through resettlement. However, we are very concerned about the plight of unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, particularly as reports suggest they are falling prey to people traffickers. We urge the Government to come to a quick decision on the proposal by Save the Children as this is a matter of utmost urgency. We would welcome a decision by the Government in favour of resettling 3,000 unaccompanied children, as recommended by Save the Children, and in addition to the current commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees from the region.
64.In his speech announcing the expansion of the VPRS, the Prime Minister stated that the 20,000 refugees would be accepted “over the rest of this Parliament”, without mentioning details on the timing of the arrivals. When questioned on the timing, Minister for Syrian Refugees Richard Harrington MP highlighted the need to ensure resettlement was well organised:
I know it is in everybody’s interests, not least the people from Syria, to make sure they are brought here in a proper, well-ordered and decent way.
We agree with the point that rushing the resettling process without first making the appropriate preparations is not in refugees’ best interests, particularly given their vulnerabilities. Minister Harrington acknowledged the desirability of swift action, but emphasised that refugees awaiting resettlement are under humanitarian protection:
Your instinct, when you see people over there, is to want to get them here as quickly as possible, but, given that they are under UNHCR protection, with shelter and food, etc, it is better just to do it properly.
65.We have heard evidence that a reduction in available funding from international donors other than the UK has reduced the capacity of multilateral organisations to deliver humanitarian protection. In the context of mounting pressure on limited humanitarian resource in the region, there is a case for delivering resettlement quickly. The Government should be prepared for the possibility that the speed of resettlements may take on greater urgency. The Government should also explore urgently how to better harness the substantial goodwill and offers of support for Syrian refugees, from local community groups within the UK seeking to support refugees settled here.
66.Other key issues for the resettlement process include matching refugees to the local authorities that have the capacity to support their needs, and helping them to integrate once resettled. Paul Morrison, Director for the United Kingdom Syrian resettlement programme, assured us that refugees are selected on the basis of their vulnerability, not their potential to integrate, and that support for integration is a key part of the resettlement scheme.
67.In his evidence, Minister Harrington made several references to employment for refugees on arrival, suggesting that as resettlement processes develop, refugees’ skills could be matched to the skills demand in local areas. The Minister also identified English lessons as an important feature of integration efforts, as he told us:
It is absolutely top priority, for employment, integration, kids at school—everything.
Despite the Minister’s emphasis, evidence suggests that Government funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses have been substantially cut, leading to long waiting lists around the country. We support the Minister’s proposal of a skills matching scheme to help refugees transition into working life in the UK, but we are concerned about cuts to ESOL funding. The long waiting lists are evidence that demand already outstrips supply. We urge the Government to reconsider the cuts to ESOL funding as we believe that they are counterproductive to integration plans.
68.The Government has stated that it will use the aid budget to support resettled refugees in their first year within the UK, an approach that is in full accordance with internationally agreed rules set out by DAC. We were reassured by Minister of State Desmond Swayne MP’s assertion that the Government will continue to operate within these rules. We agree with the Minister that the rules must be followed to maintain the UK’s international credibility.
69.Under the resettlement scheme, Syrian refugees are to be assigned a humanitarian protection visa which affords them five years leave to remain in the UK. We were assured by Minister Swayne and Minister Harrington that, despite ODA support only being eligible for the first year, the Government will continue to fund local authorities in their support for Syrian refugees beyond their first year in the UK. We welcome the news that support will continue beyond the first year, particularly given the financial pressures that many local authorities are under.
56 International Committee of the Red Cross ()
57 International Committee of the Red Cross ()
59 John Ging, Director of Coordination and Response Division, UN OCHA ()
60 International Committee of the Red Cross ()
62 DFID Funding table, Appendix 1
63 John Ging, Director of Coordination and Response Division, UN OCHA ()
65 HC Deb, 2 December 2015,
68 CAFOD () para 2.4
69 Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan () para 9
70 Mercy Corps () para 2.1
72 World Vision () para 28
74 UNHCR Annex A ()
75 UNHCR Annex A ()
76 International Development Committee, First Report of Session 2014—15, UK Support for Humanitarian Relief in the Middle East, HC 248
77 International Development Committee, Third Special Report of Session 2014—15, UK Support for Humanitarian Relief in the Middle East: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2014–15, HC 673
78 World Food Programme () para 1
79 Chatham House () para 7
80 UNHCR ()
85 Tearfund () para 6
87 Barnabas Fund ()
89 Save the Children () par 2.2
90 Lebanon Humanitarian INGO Forum, Background Paper on Unregistered Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, p3
91 Lebanon Humanitarian INGO Forum, Background Paper on Unregistered Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, p11-13
92 HelpAge International/Handicap International, Hidden victims of the Syrian crisis: disabled, injured and older refugees , p6
96 Save the Children () para 3.9
98 Amnesty International, Pushed to the Edge: Syrian Refugees Face Increased Restrictions in Lebanon (June 2015), p5
100 World Vision () para 9
102 DFID () para 4
104 Qq31, 47
105 Professor Dawn Chatty () para 3
107 Chatham House () para 2
108 Save the Children () para 3.8
110 Equal Rights Trust, Equal Only in Name: The Human Rights of Stateless Rohingya in Thailand (October 2014), p18
112 Save the Children () para 3.18
113 Save the Children () para 3.16
114 HC Deb, 7 September 2015,
115 HC Deb, 7 September 2015,
118 World Food Programme () para 8
123 HC Deb, 7 September 2015,
125 Qq90, 132
Prepared 21 December 2015