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Home Office hosts workshop on resettling Syrian refugees

03 March 2017


Pitching up: Syrian refugee boys attend a soccer training session at a private sports club in southern Beirut, last month

Pitching up: Syrian refugee boys attend a soccer training session at a private sports club in southern Beirut, last month

A LATE surge of more than 1200 Syrian refugees entering the UK last year has pushed the total number resettled under the Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Programme to 5464 in 18 months — just over one quarter of the national target set for 2020, the latest immigration figures state. Half of these refugees were children.

The data, released by the Home Office last week, indicate that more than 8000 children were granted refuge or other forms of leave by the Government last year through its various resettlement schemes, including more than 900 unaccompanied children from Europe. More than 200 councils across the UK are housing refugees, it says.

The VPR Scheme was announced in October 2015 after the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. Mr Cameron also promised to house a further 3000 children and adults from the Middle East and North Africa, under the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme.

A third scheme for Full Community Sponsorship was launched in July last year by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It allows charities, faith groups, churches, and businesses to sponsor directly the resettlement of refugee families in the UK (News, 22 July).

So far, just two families have come to the UK to be resettled under this scheme — one in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, and one in the Roman Catholic parish of St Monica’s, Flixton, in Salford. But more are due to arrive in the coming weeks (News, 3 February).

Sean Ryan, who was recently appointed as the refugee resettlement officer for Caritas in Salford, organised the private sponsorship of a Syrian family of two adults and three young children, who have been living in the RC diocese since November. It involved submitting a detailed 65-page resettlement plan to the Home Office, he said.

“You have to be patient, because you have to be thorough and show that you have done your planning. That can be frustrating for some, as it can take four or five months to get right. But once the family are here, it is a much more organic process.”

Mr Ryan was speaking during an all-day workshop at the Home Office, in London, last week, where he offered advice to 12 church and community groups that are preparing to resettle Syrian refugee families in the next month. “Make a point of cosying up to your local authority,” he told the group. “Obviously be humble; we are ordinary members of civil society, but we are doing these people a favour.

“You will need to establish a robust and sensible structure for your group, and allocate special roles, but always maintain a spirit of teamwork and democracy. We are volunteers, and, if volunteers are not happy, they can walk away.”

He concluded: “There is a balance to be struck between always loving and cherishing your family, and remembering that you are in a quasi-professional role, and that you are responsible for their welfare.”

Prospective sponsors must have access to about £9000 to pay for the resettlement, and approval from their local council. Other responsibilities include meeting the family at the airport; providing accommodation for a minimum of two years; ensuring access to education, social, and health services; providing English language tuition; and helping adult family members find employment.

Although the Government has not released any central funding to support the scheme, those Syrian families resettled under it are being counted towards the national target of 20,000.

It comes after church leaders criticised the Government for closing a separate scheme to resettle 3000 children from Europe under the terms of the Immigration Act (2016), as amended by Lord Dubs, after only 350 children had been resettled (News, 17 February).

Mr Ryan was not concerned, however. Community sponsors have the potential to resettle hundreds of families in the next year, he said, saving time and resources, which might encourage the Government to increase of its 20,000 target.

“Progress has been a bit slow so far, but it is going to pick up,” he said. “The level of interest has been huge. The Salvation Army are about to welcome their family any day now.”

Sponsors must be approved by the Home Office after a lengthy application process, and risk assessment. Stephen King, a church council member of St Peter’s De Beauvoir, Hackney, finished applying two weeks ago, and is awaiting approval. He and his wife, and two other churchgoers, first contacted Hackney Council about the scheme in July last year.

“The Council were initially worried, as they have their own scheme through which they had already sponsored three families,” he said. “But the difference here is that the community takes responsibility.

“St Peter’s agreed to be the lead sponsor, and we have a whole support network, including the owners of a local hardware shop — one from Iraq and one from Aleppo — who have offered help with the welcome and translating. It is a very well-knit and diverse community.”

The ‎International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been offering pre-departure services for Syrians preparing to enter the UK, since 2004. Mallory Carlson, who works with IOM to deliver “reverse cultural orientations” on Syria to local authorities and their partners, to support the integration process, also spoke at the workshop.

Community sponsors, she said, must understand that the cultural and historical differences between the UK and Syria could cause “conflict”, or even safeguarding issues during the resettlement process.

Her presentation included a short history of religious festivals, food, clothing, traditions, taboos, and family structures — both before and after the civil war in Syria — and the consequences the conflict has had on Syrian life for those forced to seek refuge at home or abroad.

A Methodist chaplain in Birmingham, the Revd David Butterworth, who attended the workshop, said that 50 refugees had come to the city in the past 12 months, but that communication had been a “nightmare” since only one spoke English, and many others were preliterate.

He recommended that potential sponsors meet Syrians where communities had already been resettled, not only to help but also “to realise they have amazing gifts to give to us; so that then the dynamic changes, and an exchange is possible”.

The Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill, said afterwards: “The workshop was a real collaborative effort, with community groups and resettlement experts sharing their experience and learning from each other. It is great to see such enthusiasm for supporting refugees through Community Sponsorship.”


More information about the Full Community Sponsorship Scheme, visit www.gov.uk.

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