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Thu 29 July 2021

Only a dozen child refugees have been resettled in the UK while conflicts rage across the globe, reports Sam Bright

Just 12 vulnerable children were resettled by the Home Office from March 2020 to February 2021 under its flagship international asylum scheme, Byline Times can reveal.

As previously reported by Byline Times, the UK resettled just 353 asylum seekers under official programmes last year, down from 4,968 the previous year. The Government launched the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme in 2014, in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, with a commitment to resettling 20,000 people in need of protection by 2020.

The scheme worked closely with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify vulnerable individuals and, in 2019, the Government announced that its 20,000 pledge had been met.

One element of this programme, the Vulnerable Child Resettlement Scheme, was launched in April 2016 – covering children in need across the Middle East. However, Government data shows that just 12 children were resettled under this scheme in the latest year.

The Government has said that it was forced to pause resettlement activity during the second and third quarter of 2020 due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic because asylum seekers could not be safely rehoused during this period due to a risk of virus transmission. The High Court recently ruled that the Home Office’s decision to house cross-channel migrants in the “squalid” Napier Barracks in Folkestone during the COVID-19 crisis was unlawful.

In February, the Government launched a new refugee resettlement scheme, the UK Resettlement Scheme, which replaces the aforementioned, pre-existing programmes.

However, the UK Resettlement Scheme sets no target and no time-frame for the resettlement of refugees. 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”.

“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 previously told Byline Times.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has taken a broadly hostile stance towards established asylum systems in recent months. She has targeted lawyers who represent asylum seekers in their claims to remain in the UK – calling them “activist lawyers”. She has also rallied against those who make the journey across the Channel via boat – proposing that those who enter the UK illegally will in future be treated more harshly than those who have entered through official routes.

Refugee organisations have warned that this risks creating a ‘two-tier’ asylum system and will unfairly prejudice individuals who have desperately fled war, violence or famine yet have not been able to access official channels of arrival.

“The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to people in need: from the 10,000 Jewish children we rescued from the Nazis, to the 20,000 Syrian refugees we’ve resettled since 2014, with many others in between,” Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael observed in the Independent. “But now, the Conservative Government is turning its back on refugees and failing to live up to our obligations to them.”

Immigration Minister Chris Philp responded by saying that “while the pandemic has meant that resettlement activity has been disrupted over the last year, no one should be in any doubt of our commitment to build upon our proud history of resettling refugees in need of protection.”

“The numbers we resettle will be kept under review and we will be guided by the capacity of local authorities, central government and community sponsor groups as we recover from COVID to provide places and support refugees to integrate into their communities and thrive,” he added.

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