22 Oct 2016, 13 mins ago

First Syrian refugees arrive to the UK after the Government announced to accept 20,000

At the beginning of September the Government announced that “over the remainder of the parliament”, which is expected to run until May 2020, the UK will accept up to 20,000 Syrian refugees directly from refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, countries which are neighbouring to Syria. It has now been confirmed that first group of Syrian refugees arrived in the UK last week.

The Government has provided very little details about their arrival or where they would be resettled, stating only that “… a number of people have arrived in the UK as part of the vulnerable persons resettlement (VPR) scheme.” It is believed that so far about 100 Syrian refugees are already in the UK under the scheme.

Syrian refugees who come to the UK under the VPR scheme are chosen by the United Nations. However, final decision regarding their admission to the country is made by British Officials. The scheme, which was launched in January 2014, gives priority to the most vulnerable people, including victims of rape and torture and those who are too elderly or disabled to live in the refugee camps. David Cameron said that all orphans or vulnerable and disabled children and would also be prioritised, calling the Syrian refugee resettlement plan in the UK a “national effort”.

Home Office has previously stated that alongside the VPR scheme the government also operates two other refugee resettlement routes:

– the Gateway programme, which is one of the largest and oldest resettlement programmes in the EU and has run for over 10 years with close cooperation with UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees). The government claims that the Gateway’s current aim is to resettle 750 refugees per year, prioritising refugees who have been displaced for more than 5 years.

– Mandate programme has operated for over 20 years and is designed to resettle individual refugees from anywhere in the world if they are recognized as refugees be UNHCR or have a close family member settled in the UK who is willing to accommodate them.

The details surrounding the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the UK under the VPR programme are quite vague. The reports state that those that come to the UK under the VPR scheme will be given humanitarian protection and have full legal rights to settle in the UK for five years. This will include permission to work and seek benefits and access to health care and education. After the five-year period they will have the option to claim asylum and their status will be reviewed. The Government also stated that for the first months of their arrival, these Syrian refugees “will be accompanied every step of the way into their new life” under a personalised integration plan. It has also been reported that the Government will be working closely with local authorities. However, again, very little information has emerged since the announcement about the practical implementation of the scheme. Some local councils like South Lanarkshire and Barnet announced that they are prepared to take about 60 people each and are waiting for the government’s instructions, while Buckinghamshire County Council stated that, although “the decision to accept the government’s proposals has gone ahead”, there are growing concerns over the actual preparation and resources to take in Syrian refugees.

Since the eruption of migration crisis in early 2011, the UK Government has been under a constant pressure not just from the EU institutions but also opposition parties, charities and various public bodies to take in more refugees who are fleeing war and military conflicts, violence and poverty not just in Syria but also Afghanistan, Eritrea and Kosovo.

The arrival of first of 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK last week coincided with the European Ministers agreeing (by the majority vote, despite opposition of four states) to the European Commission’s proposal to relocate 120,000 people during the next two years under the European Agenda on Migration. The UK, Denmark and Ireland were exempt from the EU refugee-sharing scheme and had a choice to opt out of it or participate. The UK government decided to stay out and would not need to accept refugee quotas imposed by the Commission on the other Member states. Although the EU Commission claimed that refugee “relocation is part of a comprehensive approach to deal with the ongoing crisis”, it remains to be seen how the divisive EU government’s decision to force refugee quotas on its Member states will play out.