The UK resettles thousands of refugees every year on humanitarian grounds through UNHCR programmes. These refugees do not have to go through the asylum process.
What are the refugee resettlement programmes currently being run in the UK?
- Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS)
Under the VPRS, the UK will resettle 20,000 refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict by 2020. It is accessible to refugees who have fled the conflict and who have been referred to the government by UNHCR.
- Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme (VCRS)
The VCRS is a commitment from the UK to resettle up to 3,000 children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by 2020. The VCRS is open to vulnerable children and their families in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where UNHCR deem resettlement to be in the best interests of the child.
The scheme is accessible to all ‘children and adolescents at risk’ as defined by UNHCR, which encompasses unaccompanied children as well as those in families or with care-givers (an adult who UNHCR is satisfied has assumed legitimate responsibility for the child). The scheme is open to refugees of all nationalities.
The Gateway Protection programme aims to resettle 750 refugees per (financial) year. Individuals resettled through Gateway must have been living in a protracted refugee situation for over five years, unless there is an urgent need for resettlement (e.g. life endangerment).
What is the role of local government?
While these are national government programmes, in fact it is local authorities who are responsible for providing support to resettled refugees. This is a substantial undertaking: councils must provide an initial welcome, housing, relevant social care support, and assistance with English language provision and social integration.
While Government provides funding which nominally covers costs, this often falls well short of the costs incurred by local authorities in London due to the high housing costs in the capital. Many London local authorities use Discretionary Housing Payments and draw on their own general funds to cover the costs of housing for refugees.
Despite all these challenges, around 800 refugees from the Syrian conflict have been resettled in London to date. This is a testament to the commitment of London local government to providing a refuge for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
What is Community Sponsorship?
In July 2016 the government launched the Community Sponsorship Scheme. This is intended to enable community groups to become directly involved in supporting the resettlement of refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict. To be full sponsors, a community group must have the backing of their local authority, be able to support an allocated family for one year and house them for two years. As with the case in the mainstream local authority provision of support, there is a high financial burden associated Community Sponsorship which can be difficult for community groups to fulfil.
The organisation RESET is now providing assistance for potential community sponsors. Their website can be found here: https://www.resetuk.org/
What is the future of refugee resettlement in the UK?
The VPRS, VCRS and Gateway are coming to an end in 2020, when they will be consolidated into one new global scheme.
The new programme will broaden the geographical focus beyond the Middle East and North Africa. In the first year of operation, the UK will aim to resettle around 5000 refugees. Funding rates will be the same as under the VPRS, for the first year of the scheme. There is not yet a decision from the Government about funding from 2021 onwards.
A new process for emergency resettlement will also be developed, allowing the UK to respond quickly to instances when there is a heightened need for protection, providing a faster route to resettlement where lives are at risk.