Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced to Parliament today that the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, launched in 2014 and expanded in September 2015, will no longer exclude non-Syrians living in Syria who are in need of resettlement. These include Iraqis and Palestinians, many of whom had lived in Syria for many years, having been safe there until the conflict in Syria broke out.
The UNHCR can now refer people to the scheme on the basis that they are deemed vulnerable and in need of resettlement to a country outside of the one to which they immediately fled. Most refugees in the world do not make it further than the country next door, meaning that countries such as Turkey host a hugely disproportionate number of refugees simply because of their proximity to a refugee producing country.
The announcement acknowledged that refugees who arrive through resettlement are able to get to the UK more safely and directly than the majority of refugees, who are forced to risk the dangers of an irregular journey. The lack of safe and legal routes means that many of those fleeing conflict, including those seeking to join family members in safe countries, have no choice but to turn to smugglers to assist their flight. Whilst the UK has a refugee family reunion policy, it is very limited in its criteria, resulting in close family members being forced to choose between living separately and making dangerous journeys to reunite. This has been a key campaigning issue for us and other charities, as you can see here.
The Refugee Council is calling for an expansion of the eligibility criteria. We are also asking for a long term commitment, beyond the one announced in 2015, to resettle refugees from around the world. The UNHCR forecasts that 1.19 million people will need a resettlement place this year. They are reserved for the people identified as unable to return home or survive in the country to which they fled and include survivors of torture and women and girls at risk.
Responding to this announcement, Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:
“Today’s announcement that the Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Scheme will be a lifeline for refugees of any nationality fleeing Syria, not just Syrian natives, is welcome news. The harm caused by the bitter Syrian conflict does not discriminate on the basis of nationality and neither should our humanitarian response.
“With the number of refugees at a record high, we urge the Government to go further and commit to resettling people from around the world, at least at current numbers, for as long as it is needed.”