“STRIKING” public support for the integration of vulnerable Syrian refugees in the UK has been commended in a UN study published last week.
The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, in partnership with the University of London, interviewed 165 of the 8000 refugees resettled under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) to date (News, 3 March, 2017).
It found that, “in terms of initial reception and early integration, refugees were grateful for the genuine welcome they had received and impressed by the efficiency with which tasks were completed by central and local government and civil society.”
Refugees were “heartened that their children could catch up on lost schooling”, and most children had been able quickly to acquire English skills and make friends. Some schools, however, were found to be unaware of extra funding available to them. English classes were “generally well attended”, although some adults “admitted struggling with language”. The £10 million for English classes offered under the VPRS, committed by the Government last year, had been “invaluable”.
A minority of the refugees were in employment, but the study reports “a real desire among them to access work soon”. It recommends that “earlier labour market integration and validating skills from Syria would help self-reliance and reduce dependency. Existing work-promotion schemes were limited, and some councils felt they were working on this in isolation and would benefit from a national matching plan for employers and refugees.”
Refugees were “generally happy” with housing, and reported feeling secure, but the stock of affordable rental property was “small and diminishing”, and some refugees in rural areas found integration harder. Two-thirds of them were survivors of violence and torture, or had specific medical needs, and the scheme had allowed them to access “crucial treatment they would otherwise be denied”. Some councils were concerned about the prospect of funding health-care after 2020, and expressed “a lack of confidence in understanding how family reunification processes work”.
Among the recommendations is the establishment of a “national integration strategy” to better inform and guide those supporting refugees, a review of councils’ capacity to take more refugees, and making family reunification planning “more integral” to the scheme.
“The UK clearly has the capacity to resettle meaningful numbers of refugees,” the UNHCR’s representative in London, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, said. “Integration of refugees is complex. By and large it is working, and support for integration — from the public, local authorities, and Government — has been striking. We hope that, with development, this model can help more refugees, from Syria and elsewhere, resettle here after 2020.” He would like the UK to resettle 10,000 refugees a year.