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Coventry backs Syria scheme

11 September 2015


Trekker: a young refugee walks bare­­­­­­­­­­foot out of Budapest last Friday

Trekker: a young refugee walks bare­­­­­­­­­­foot out of Budapest last Friday

WHEN the Government originally asked local authorities to consider participating in the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme for Syrian nationals, 18 months ago, just three responded. One of these was Coventry, which, to date, has resettled 78 (News, 24 July).

This week, the director of primary care, sustainability, and integration at Coventry City Council, Professor Simon Brake, said that he would "absolutely" recommend that other authorities take part.

Financing the scheme was not a problem, he said. The first year of costs is met by the Home Office, and the five-year humanitarian-protection visa entitles the holder to access public funds, including health and social care.

The Government’s decision to take people who had been assessed in refugee camps was the right one, he said. "The UNHCR ensures that people who are brought here are those most genuinely in need, and have been subject to necessary levels of government vetting. It’s a very serious determination to be made. We need to understand people’s needs in advance."

There has been a "huge increase" of interest in the scheme in recent days, Professor Brake said, including an offer from a churchwarden at Holy Trinity, Coventry, where he is also a churchwarden, of three bedrooms. "We are working with many people in the city who are volunteering time, money, goods, and houses, to ensure that we do that in a safe and appropriate way," he said.

Offers of accommodation for Syrian refugees were unlikely to be used, he said, as permanent housing was crucial. He stressed that scaling up the scheme — to date, it has brought just 216 Syrians to the UK — would require careful thought.

"A key aspect is timing. You could not simply drop a load of people into a city without thoughtful preparation. To go from hundreds to several thousand in one go is clearly not something you can do overnight."

But he recommended the programme to other councils. "We believe this is good and responsible scheme, and it is absolutely right that other local authorities should consider it. And we would welcome discussion: if they need to talk to us, they are very welcome."

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