Published 11 November 2020: The inspection looked at how the various long-running resettlement schemes had performed up to March 2020, and what lessons the Home Office should be taking forward into any new scheme.
When I began this inspection of the UK’s refugee resettlement schemes, the Home Office was on the verge of launching a new scheme to replace the Gateway Protection Programme (Gateway), Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), and Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). It also appeared that the target for VPRS to resettle 20,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria by May 2020 would be achieved.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed both the launch of the new UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) and VPRS. In mid-March 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced a temporary suspension of all resettlements, which they lifted in June 2020.
Despite pleas from NGOs and others for the government to resume refugee resettlements as a matter of urgency there has been none under any UK scheme since 12 March 2020. On 9 November, the government confirmed in a House of Lords debate on the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill that it will restart refugee resettlement “as soon possible”, but gave no indication of when this might be.
Against this backdrop, and in anticipation of the eventual launch of UKRS, the inspection looked at how the various long-running schemes had performed up to March 2020, at the particular difficulties and issues each had encountered, and at what lessons the Home Office should be taking forward into any new scheme. This included a look at the Community Sponsorship Scheme (CSS).
I last inspected VPRS in 2017-18. At that time, I commented that everyone concerned with the scheme (UNHCR, IOM, UK local authorities and their delivery partners, NGOs, the Home Office and other government departments, and CSS groups) deserved credit for what they had achieved. There was no doubting their hard work and commitment, or the very real challenges they faced. However, there were several areas where improvements were needed, some of which were directly within the Home Office’s control, while others required it to be more active in co- ordinating, cajoling and incentivising others.
In 2018, Home Office managers and staff felt that my criticisms were unfair, and may well feel the same about the findings from this latest inspection.
For the record, I again found that those working on the resettlement schemes were knowledgeable, competent and highly committed. It was clear that they all derived a great deal of satisfaction from helping vulnerable refugees. Operationally, every resettlement presents a host of challenges, the greatest of which is securing the required accommodation and support. Each arrival is therefore an achievement.
Nonetheless, I found there was still considerable room for improvement, and a risk that the Home Office would roll into UKRS without confronting some of the fundamental concerns about the previous schemes, particularly the range of accommodation and support available and its impact on the time taken from acceptance of a refugee family to their resettlement in the UK.
As I observed in 2018, while the UK resettlement process may be quick compared with other international schemes, the Home Office should not regard this as an answer to concerns about timescales, not least as these have continued to lengthen, especially for larger families and refugees with complex needs. Eight months (to date) without any resettlements has simply made this worse, particularly for those already accepted for resettlement and waiting for news.
My report was sent to the Home Secretary on 14 September 2020. It contains ten recommendations. The Home Office has accepted all of the recommendations, albeit only partially in some cases. Implementation will involve a great deal of effort. While UKRS remains paused, the Home Office should press ahead with as much of this work as possible, resisting the temptation to redeploy key staff, so that when the new scheme is eventually launched it is as good as it can be.
The Home Office should:
4.1 Resource and carry out (on a rolling basis) a detailed analysis of all cases in the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) “Work in Progress” (WiP) queue that have been at the ‘accommodation matching stage’ for more than 13 weeks to identify the specific reasons why, and:
a. produce an Action Plan for each case that addresses its particular obstacles to resettlement, with target dates for reaching solutions, for quarterly senior management review(s), and for formal reconsideration of the referral (no later than 12 months after acceptance)
b. produce a Strategic Plan that addresses recurring or systemic obstacles, including where the solution lies with a third party (for example, another government department, local authority, NGO, or the community)
4.2 Pending completion of the detailed analysis of the cases in the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) WiP that have been at the ‘accommodation matching stage’ for more than 13 weeks as at 1 August 2020, set a cap on the number of new non-Urgent UNHCR referrals that will be accepted in 2020-21, in order to ensure that older, “harder to place” cases are prioritised, in particular those marked as “Urgent” by UNHCR that were carried over into UKRS from the previous schemes.
4.3 Publish guidance on how the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) will handle “Emergency” cases, including clarification of whether the Home Office’s understanding of the term is as defined by UNHCR.
4.4 Publish a Statement of Intent in respect of the eligibility of unaccompanied minors to be resettled through the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS), capturing and drawing on the lessons learned from those resettled through VCRS, and including details of the steps being taken to ensure that the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) is fully functioning.
4.5 As a means of encouraging greater local authority and community sponsor participation, make more effective use of the “exceptional costs” budget by identifying and actively encouraging claims where appropriate, and considering how it might be used to “unlock” cases that have been at the ‘accommodation matching stage’ for a prolonged period (12 months+).
4.6 In light of concerns about the practical and financial difficulties refugees are likely to face when applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after five years:
a. Reconsider whether the policy decision that the refugees resettled through the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) will be granted Leave to Remain (LTR) is justified and necessary (publishing the supporting Equality Impact Assessment and Risk Assessment). b. Grant ILR to those refugees initially referred through Gateway and taken into the UKRS WiP, so that they are not disadvantaged because of delays in completing their resettlement under the old scheme and extend this (as a minimum) to any referral where the refugee family has “been living in a protracted refugee situation for over five years”.
4.7 Agree a plan with the Ministry of Justice, Legal Aid Agency and Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) to ensure that refugees resettled throughout the UK are able to access affordable, good quality legal advice should they need to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or for any other immigration-related purposes.
4.8 Produce a communication strategy for the Community Sponsorship Scheme (CSS) aimed at increasing the number, geographical spread and diversity of applications, set against realistic but stretching targets. The strategy should incorporate the learning from CSS groups, resettled families and relevant NGOs, and involve them in its delivery. It should also deal directly with real or perceived concerns of prospective groups, such as the requirement for Muslim groups to complete PREVENT training or that the financial commitment and period that support will be required are understated.
4.9 Analyse and publish the findings to date of the Ipsos Mori “three-year qualitative longitudinal evaluation” of VPRS/VCRS with a view to obtaining stakeholder feedback to help inform the final year of the study.
4.10 Ensure that the resourcing of the UK Resettlement Scheme within UKVI has sufficient capacity at senior levels to manage the policy and strategy challenges, including cross-departmental dependencies, and at working level to run the scheme day-to-day, ensuring that all roles have up-to-date Job Descriptions.