1.On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Home Office (the Department) about the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme (the programme).
2.Since it began in 2011, the civil war in Syria has caused mass movement of Syrians, both within the country and to neighbouring countries. Syrians now make up the largest refugee population in the world and almost five million people have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the conflict. In January 2014, the UK Government announced that it would establish a Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme to allow selected refugees to resettle in the UK. The original programme was relatively small in scale and resettled 239 refugees up to the end of September 2015.
3.In September 2015, the Government announced that it would expand the programme in order to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in the UK by May 2020. The Government also added an interim target to resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas 2015, which the Department and its partners successfully met. By the end of June 2016, a total of 2,659 Syrian refugees had been resettled in the UK as part of the programme, making up 13% of the overall target.
4.The programme is the joint responsibility of the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for International Development. It also involves a large number of other organisations, including international organisations, other government departments, local authorities and third sector delivery partners.
5.Local authorities are responsible for resettling and integrating refugees into their new local communities once they arrive in the UK. Their participation in the programme is voluntary. Local authorities make indicative pledges to the Department to resettle refugees, which become firm offers once the Department has identified the refugees and the local authority has secured appropriate accommodation, support and services to meet their needs. The extent of local authority participation in the programme so far has varied greatly across the country, with Scotland having resettled around a third of refugees so far. The Department told us that it had no plans to change the voluntary nature of the programme as it was important that the programme was delivered in a co-operative and collaborative way with local authorities. It told us that introducing a mandatory approach would not create the right dynamic for the programme, nor was it necessary as it had no evidence that pledges were being reneged upon.
6.The Department is confident that it has enough indicative pledges of support from local authorities to meet the overall 20,000 target. It told us that it had designed the programme so that it was resilient and flexible enough to respond to policy changes in the speed or number of refugees that it needed to resettle, should it be required to in future. It also told us that it was working with local authorities to make sure that the programme proceeded at a pace that local authorities were comfortable with and could deliver the services needed. Some practical issues have nonetheless caused delays to resettling refugees, for example whether families are ready to come to the UK and whether the accommodation is available. We also heard an example from one of our own constituencies where there have been delays getting refugee children on the programme into school.
7.Local authorities receive specific funding to help them support refugees during their first five years in the UK. This starts at £8,520 per person for their first year in the UK and reduces each additional year they are in the UK. Some local authorities are concerned that the funding available will not be enough to cover the support and services they will need to offer refugees, particularly at a time when they face a number of other financial pressures. For example, around 20% of the children in the programme are expected to have Special Educational Needs and therefore require additional support. We asked whether local authorities could be assured that the needs of refugees will be taken into account in the local authority funding formula and special funds made available by the Department. It told us that that the numbers of people involved in the programme, particularly those that will require additional support, were small compared to the total number of people local authorities support, but that it had made specific funds available to local authorities to support those with special needs. It committed to working with local authorities to determine the effects of changes to the local authority settlement on their ability to provide support and services to refugees.
8.The Department told us that the amounts set for the local authority tariff for each refugees’ second to fifth year in the UK had been determined in consultation with local authorities, including those who had already participated in the programme and those who had participated in the Gateway Protection Programme, as well as the Local Government Association. The local authority tariff is designed to contribute to, rather than cover in full, the costs to local authorities of providing support and services during refugees’ second to fifth years in the UK at a rate of around 80% of total costs. The Department told us that the majority of local authorities it spoke to were happy to pledge on the basis of this contribution.
9.The Department has not ring-fenced what the money provided to local authorities through the tariff can be used to fund. While it has set out in a statement of requirements what services it expects local authorities to provide to refugees, there has been some confusion over what local authorities can and should provide in practice, for example whether they can or should provide families with a washing machine. The Department committed to reviewing the guidance provided to local authorities as part of the funding and statement of requirement for refugees’ first year of support. It confirmed, however, that a team of ten contact officers are available within the Home Office to answer local authorities’ questions.
10.Syrian refugees resettling in the UK as part of the programme are granted humanitarian protection status by the Department rather than the refugee status typically granted to successful asylum seekers. This has created a number of practical difficulties around access to certain welfare benefits and other means of support that can have a negative impact on the lives of refugees.
11.The Department told us that it chose to grant humanitarian protection status rather than refugee status because the Government’s overall strategy was to bring an end to the Syrian civil war and enable refugees, whether in the UK or neighbouring countries, to return home and rebuild their lives and their country. The Department asserted that the overall impact on the lives of refugees is the same regardless of whether they are granted refugee or humanitarian protection status as both have full access to the labour market and are entitled to apply to settle permanently in the UK after five years at no cost. It accepted, however, that this decision had caused some unexpected issues which it committed to keeping under active review.
12.It is not always clear to refugees what they are entitled to under their humanitarian protection status, or what will happen to them after the end of the programme, which is causing some people undue stress. The Department told us that it was committed to understanding the experiences of the people taking part in the programme and how it could best address any issues arising. For example, it has produced a factsheet in Arabic and English to more clearly explain their humanitarian protection status and requirements for travel documents. It told us that it was working with local authorities to make sure that they understood the issues that had been raised and central government’s guidance on each of these points.
13.Other countries, such as Canada, make wide use of private sponsorship and community sponsorship as part of their resettlement programmes. Community sponsorships, which allow individuals and organisations to privately sponsor and support refugees, were introduced in the UK as part of the programme in July 2016. A very small number of refugees have been resettled through the community sponsorship scheme so far. The Department told us that it was deliberately starting at a relatively small scale because the approach was new to the UK and it wanted to fully understand what would be required of sponsors.
14.The Department has not set a target or quotas for community sponsorships as it wants them to operate alongside the main scheme and at a pace that potential sponsors are able to deliver. Supporting a refugee, whether through community sponsorships or the local authority resettlement route, can require considerable resources and professional support over an extended period of time. The Department confirmed that it worked with potential sponsors and local authorities to determine who would be best suited to which resettlement route, and has established strict criteria to help inform this decision. For example, it would not place an individual with particular or exceptional needs in a community sponsorship if it felt that the state needed to provide them with considerable support.
15.There are important differences between the support and services offered through community sponsorships and the local authority route. For example, community sponsors are required to provide less money and support for a shorter amount of time than the five years offered through the local authority route. Refugees will require services and support from local authorities even if they are being sponsored by individuals or community groups. The Department recognised that it is important that community sponsorships are complementary, rather than compete with, the resettlement route offered by local authorities.
1 C&AG’s Report, The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme, Session 2016–17, HC 626, 13 September 2016
2 , paras 1, 2, 1.2–1.3, 1.8
3 , paras 2, 4, 1.9, 3.4
4 , paras 3, 2.4
5 , paras 9, 2.8–2.9
11 , para 2.12
12 , paras 13, 2.13, 4.9
16 , para 2.13
19 , Refugee Council (), paras 11, 3.17–3.20
21 , Refugee Council ()
24 , Home Office ()
26 , paras 11, 3.16, 3.19–3.20
29 , para 4.12
30 , para 4.12
36 para 4.13
4 January 2017