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Tue 22 June 2021

Refugee rights campaigners have expressed concern that the Government’s New Plan for Immigration lacks clarity on the future of the resettlement scheme, reports Sian Norris

Only 353 refugees were resettled under official programmes in the UK in 2020, statistics published this week revealed.

Although resettlement programmes were suspended in March 2020 as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, only eight individuals have been welcomed into the UK since the programme reopened in November 2020.

In the same period, the Government has secured more than 65 “small boat-related prosecutions” – referring to people entering the UK via small crafts across the Channel.

Campaigners on migrant rights argue that the low numbers cast doubts on the Government’s commitments to providing safe routes to people fleeing war, conflict and persecution.

Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said that the “figures show the Government is continuing to turn its back on people fleeing war and persecution”.


A Lack Of Clarity

In a speech about the Government’s New Plan for Immigration, Home Secretary Priti Patel told the Conservative Bright Blue think-tank that the Government “is taking back control of immigration” by making the system “ logical and fair”. She said that this includes improving “the routes available to those in need, so they don’t have to put their lives in the hands of people smugglers”, including via resettlement schemes. 

Patel has said that “security is at the very heart of our New Plan for Immigration”.

However, the Government’s new plan does not commit to resettling a specific number of people or provide a time-frame for how long its resettlement programme will last.

Instead, the plan states that its “commitment to resettling refugees will continue to be a multi-year commitment with numbers subject to ongoing review guided by circumstances and capacity at any given time”.

According to Refugee Action and the Council for Refugees, “targets are necessary to run a refugee resettlement programme”.

Currently, the UK’s resettlement programme for refugees is run by the Government, working with the United Nations and the International Organisation of Migration to identify refugees overseas, including in camps or in nations neighbouring conflict zones. Identified families and individuals are then relocated directly to the UK with refugee status already granted.

Once a family or individual is settled in the UK, the Home Office works with local authorities to support people to integrate into the community, including through housing support and ensuring that children can attend school. 

This is a different process to someone seeking asylum. In that case, a family or individual applies for asylum having arrived in the UK, before being housed in temporary or community accommodation and granted a weekly allowance on a pre-paid card while their application is processed. 

Without targets on numbers and timescales, campaigners are concerned that the New Plan for Immigration will leave councils and local authorities struggling to plan long-term resettlement service for vulnerable refugee families. 

“Local authorities need certainty and advance notice on the length and scale of resettlement ambitions so they can properly plan,” a spokesperson from Refugee Action said. 

Lewisham, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and Southwark local authorities wrote to the Home Secretary in November to express their concern about the lack of clarity, certainty and communication on refugee resettlement programmes. In Lewisham, the lack of clarity has already meant the council losing local offers of housing for refugee families. 

“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,” said Kevin Bonavia, cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability, on Lewisham Council. “Targets and timings matter if we are to turn goodwill into reality.”

There is also concern that, without targets, Government partnerships with international agencies will struggle to identify families most in need of resettlement from refugee camps. 

Setting targets have proven to be successful in the past. The Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, set up in response to the crisis in Syria, had a target of resettling 20,000 people over five years. 

Refugee Action and the Refugee Council are now calling on the Government to make a long-term commitment to resettle 10,000 refugee families every year, in line with calls from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They ask that this would be in addition to other safe routes into the UK, such as via work schemes.

Campaigners also argue that refugees should be resettled based on their need of protection, not on other criteria such as work skills. 

“Refugee resettlement provides life-saving support to people who have beaten the odds to survive unimaginable hardship and desperately need support to restart their lives,” said Enver Solomon, chief executive of Refugee Council. “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.”

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