The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme Contents
1.The success of the programme is dependent on pledges of offers of support from local authorities turning into firm places. The participation of local authorities in the programme is voluntary. Local authorities make indicative pledges to resettle refugees, which become firm offers once the local authority has secured appropriate accommodation, support and services. The number of refugees in the programme is small compared to the total number of people local authorities support. But some local authorities are concerned that the funding available will not be enough to cover the support and services they will need to offer refugees, particularly at a time when they face a number of other financial pressures. Practical issues such as whether families are ready and able to travel to the UK, and whether accommodation and school places are available in local authorities, have already caused delays in resettling refugees. There has also been some confusion over what local authorities are required to provide to refugees when they arrive. Failing to address these issues could pose risks to the successful delivery of the programme in future. The Home Office (the Department) told us that it has enough indicative pledges of support from local authorities to meet the 20,000 target, but it is essential that these materialise into firm offers of resettlement places.
Recommendation: The Department should:
- Regularly review the number of remaining pledges and work with local authorities to ensure that they are able to provide firm offers of support; and
- More clearly specify what local authorities are expected to provide to refugees to address any current disparities or confusion.
2.Uncertainties and a lack of clarity about the programme are causing anxiety for some refugees. Refugees resettling in the UK as part of the programme are granted humanitarian protection status by the Department rather than ‘refugee’ status. The Department told us that this was because the Government’s overall strategy was to bring an end to the Syrian civil war and enable refugees, whether in the UK or neighbouring countries, to return home easily and rebuild their lives and their country. But granting humanitarian protection, as opposed to refugee, status means people can also miss out on access to some public services, for example certain welfare benefits or student finance. It also limits their ability, compared to people with refugee status, to travel to other countries. It is not always clear to refugees what they are entitled to under their humanitarian protection status, or what will happen to them after the end of the programme, which is causing them undue stress. The Department recognised that there are pros and cons to granting refugees humanitarian protection status and committed to keeping the matter under review to ensure refugees get the support they need given their circumstances.
Recommendation: The Department should, by the end of the financial year, make sure that there is full and clear communication with refugees about the programme—including the services they can expect, their entitlements, restrictions, and the implications of having ‘humanitarian protection’ status.
3.Community Sponsorship, where groups of individuals agree to provide initial support to refugees, was introduced in July 2016. But it is not yet clear how it will complement, rather than compete with, the local authority resettlement route. Other countries such as Canada make wide use of private sponsorship and community sponsorship as part of their resettlement programmes. In comparison, community sponsorship is new to the UK and has supported small numbers of refugees so far. There are important differences between the support and services offered through community sponsorships and the local authority route. For example, community sponsors are required to provide less money and support for a shorter amount of time than the five years offered through the local authority route. It will be essential to the success of community sponsorships, and the programme as a whole, that community sponsorships are complementary to, rather than competing with, the work of local authorities and that refugees don’t fall through gaps in the system.
Recommendation: The Department should write to us within six months to provide an update on community sponsorships.
4.The Department’s plans for evaluating the success of the programme are still too vague. The Department has identified the categories against which it plans to measure the success of the programme: for example refugees’ progress with English, secondary migration and employment. But it has yet to determine more specifically what it aims to achieve against each of these categories. It still does not have a baseline for the programme against which to judge progress despite the expanded programme having been in operation for over a year. The Department told us that setting a baseline for the programme was challenging owing to the larger numbers involved compared to previous resettlement programmes and the uncertainty around the characteristics of the refugees that will be resettled. We acknowledge these difficulties, but it is essential that the Department sets up targets to be able to measure progress and evaluate the overall success of the programme. Measuring and assessing the extent of secondary migration will be particularly important in determining the success of refugees’ integration into their communities and whether they have become economically independent.
Recommendation: The Department should, by the end of this financial year:
- Analyse the evidence it has collected in order to produce a baseline for the programme; and
- Set out the outcomes against which it will judge the success of the programme.
5.The Department has not yet worked out what is the right amount of English language teaching to provide. Learning English is essential for refugees to be able to integrate into their communities and communicate with service providers, such as doctors and jobcentre staff. Refugees currently receive around four hours of English language classes per week during their first year in the UK, which refugees and organisations supporting them feel is not enough for them to properly integrate into, or communicate with, their local communities. In September 2016, the Department announced that it would make an additional £10 million available for English language classes. The funding is expected to provide an additional six hours of classes per week during refugees first three to six months in the UK. It will also be used to provide regional co-ordinators to share and bring together best practice and explore more innovative approaches to helping refugees learn English, such as buddying. We welcome the increased focus on learning English, and the commitment to exploring new ways of getting the best from these efforts, but it is not clear whether this will be enough to ensure refugees are properly integrated into their communities and able to become economically active in the UK.
Recommendation: The Department should, within six months, review what is being delivered by the increased funding for teaching English to determine whether it is sufficient to allow refugees to communicate independently with service providers and integrate quickly into their local communities.
6.It is not clear that survivors of torture are receiving the specialist support and treatment they need. More than half of the refugees resettled as part of the programme up to the end of June 2016 are survivors of torture or violence. However, only a few have been referred to specialist organisations for assessment and rehabilitation services. Our previous report on Access to Mental Health services similarly found that only around a quarter of people estimated to need mental health services have access to them. The Department told us that it shares information about refugees’ experiences and mental health conditions with local authorities if it receives this information prior to refugees’ arrival in the UK, but that it is up to local authorities to make sure that the relevant support and services are in place. The Department told us that it can be difficult to identify whether refugees are survivors of torture in advance of their arrival in the UK as they may be concerned about revealing their experiences to a stranger, or might think it could affect whether they are eligible for resettlement. While recognising these difficulties, it is nonetheless essential that survivors of torture are identified as soon as possible and that they receive the specialist support they need once they arrive in the UK.
Recommendation: The Department should, within six months, along with local authorities and delivery partners, undertake a full review of how victims of torture are being identified and supported to understand what more can be done.