By the end of March, the 20,000th refugee will arrive in the UK under the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), marking the end of an incredibly important and successful programme, which has allowed thousands of families fleeing the Syrian conflict to rebuild their lives here.
When the VPRS was announced in 2015, it showed that with the political will, the UK could be a world leader in resettlement, and play its part to support people displaced by war and persecution.
Yet despite the life-changing impact of the programme, the Government had made no public announcement about the future of policy in this area.
With the longstanding Gateway Resettlement Scheme also closing in a matter of weeks, the Government has confirmed that the new, consolidated UK Resettlement Scheme will come into place, but details for the next financial year and beyond are sadly lacking.
Today’s Budget statement from Rishi Sunak would have been the perfect opportunity for the Government to confirm how many refugees they will resettle in the next year, and what that means for the long-term future of resettlement.
Instead, organisations and local authorities are trying to plan for new arrivals but with no announcement of an official target of how many people Government wants to resettle annually. Capacity for resettlement will be driven by policy and signals from central Government – if it makes clear how many people it wants to resettle, local authorities will be able to make commitments against that figure.
The lack of a target is a departure from recent years and inexplicable when Treasury has to make funding available for the next twelve months. With resettlement numbers well down in the last year as a result of the pandemic, it is also compounding a situation where fewer refugees have been supported.
The lack of a numerical target is also problematic for other reasons. First, it gives no real criterion for success – without a target, resettling 100 refugees would count as the same achievement as resettling 1,000 in the next year. Furthermore, it provides no impetus for ambitious policy – if numbers slip or slow down, there is no final goal which pushes Government and local authorities to act.
Even more worryingly, it means that capacity and skills in the sector are being lost, and that the long-term commitment to resettlement may be at lower annual levels.
The Home Office will argue that the future of resettlement will be decided through its review of safe and legal routes, but that is unlikely to conclude until the end of this calendar year, leaving little time to be fully ready for resettlement year 2021/22.
In any case, the Refugee Council has long argued that the UK can easily commit to a target of resettling 10,000 refugees per year, on an ongoing basis. The humanitarian argument is clear, and the success of the VPRS has grown knowledge and skills across the country.
A long-term commitment is also more likely to result in better integration and employment outcomes for refugees, as support can be planned and provided for over a longer period, rather than on a start-stop basis.
President Biden has recently committed the United States to an annual resettlement quota of 125,000, up from the 15,000 of recent years. We now need the British government to show similar ambition, as part of its commitment to a Global Britain. This means ensuring that resettlement policy in the next year is properly funded and supported, to create a platform for a long-term commitment.