UK urged to do more to help refugees find safety

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19 Mar 2014

The Refugee Council is today calling on the UK Government to do more to offer safety to refugees living in protracted refugee situations around the world.

As the UK celebrates 10 years of resettling refugees under the UN’s Gateway Protection Programme, we are urging the Government to do more to help the world’s most vulnerable people rebuild their lives in safety.

Under the current system, the UK accepts up to 750 refugees from around the world every year for resettlement. Refugee resettlement involves the selection and transfer of refugees from a country in which they have sought protection to a third country which has agreed to admit them as refugees.

Many resettled refugees have previously lived in refugee camps for years; some children are even born there and it is extremely unlikely that they will ever be able to return home. A resettlement place is their only chance to rebuild their lives in safety.

The UK currently has a handful of host communities for resettled refugees, including Britain’s first City of Sanctuary, Sheffield and the UK’s next City of Culture, Hull.

The first group of refugees to arrive for resettlement were a group of Liberians, who arrived in the UK on 19 March 2004. Since then, the UK has offered places to people fleeing states well known for conflict or poor human rights records, including Somalia, Myanmar, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rose, a Liberian refugee, was resettled from Guinea in 2004. She is now a qualified nurse, working at the Sheffield Teaching Hospital. Rose said: "I had to leave Liberia after my grandfather’s village was attacked. Some of my relatives were killed. I lived in a refugee camp in Guinea for 12 years: it was depressing there.

"I’ve been very grateful to be able to come to the UK: I can’t even compare it to my life in the refugee camp. Not only have I survived, but I’ve made the most of every opportunity I’ve had.”

However, the UK and wider EU only offer a small number of refugee resettlement places compared to other countries. Today, the Refugee Council is calling on the Government to increase the number of places it provides.

For 2014 alone, UNHCR estimates that 691,000 refugees across the world were in need of resettlement. Currently EU Member States offer just 5,500 resettlement places each year, with Sweden offering the most places: 1,900. This is compared to the 70,000 places offered by the United States, 7,100 places by Canada and 20,000 by Australia in 2012.

Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: "Britain has a proud tradition of protecting refugees and in the last decade the UK Government has transformed thousands of lives through its resettlement programme.

"However, the UK and wider EU can and should increase the number of resettlement places they provide. Resettlement is a vital protection tool for refugees whose lives and liberty are at risk; a long term solution for refugees and an expression of solidarity with developing countries who host the majority of the world's refugees.

"We must do all we can to help. For some children, a resettlement place in the UK would give them their first ever night’s sleep on a mattresses in a real bed; access to running water and simply, the hope of a better future.”

Som is a refugee from Bhutan. In 2012 he was resettled in the UK from Nepal. Read his story here.