In our role as the Strategic Migration Partnership for Scotland, COSLA is coordinating refugee resettlement efforts between all 32 Scottish local authorities, the UK Government’s Joint Resettlement Team, the Scottish Government and other key partners across the public and third sector. We are also seeking to ensure that lessons learned and experiences from the Syrian resettlement scheme can influence wider refugee integration work undertaken through the New Scots strategy.
Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS)
In September 2015, both the Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister made commitments to helping those affected and displaced by the civil war in Syria, launching the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. The Prime Minister committed to resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK and to providing financial aid in the region. The First Minister said that Scotland would take a minimum of 10% of the total number coming to the UK as a whole.
Within weeks of these announcements, all of Scotland’s 32 councils had committed to supporting the resettlement efforts in one way or another and, by Christmas 2015, half had received a total of 400 Syrian refugees. This was a remarkable effort, representing 40% of the total number of refugees who came to the UK during that period.
Since then refugees have continued to arrive and settle in Scotland, and by the end of 2017 there were over 2000 Syrian refugees in 31 of Scotland's local authority areas, meeting the Scotland’s commitment only two years into the 5 year Resettlement Programme. Local authorities, and Scotland’s communities, have been rightly commended for their efforts and enthusiasm in welcoming and accepting those displaced and resettled by the crisis. Politicians from all 32 councils in Scotland have supported the decision to keep the voluntary scheme open and arrivals are continuing through the scheme.
In 2017 the SVPRS was expanded to include other nationalities who have been displaced by the Syrian conflict but do not have Syrian nationality.
Vulnerable Children's Resettlement Scheme (VCRS)
Scotland’s local authorities also support the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme to resettle children who are at risk, and their families, in the Middle East and North Africa. In August 2016, Scottish local authorities committed to taking 300 individuals which is 10% of the UK total target.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are people selected to come to the UK?
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) refers refugees to the UK Government for relocation through the Syrian Resettlement Programme. The people who are selected by UNHCR are some of the most vulnerable refugees in the region bordering Syria. They fall under one or more of the following vulnerability criteria: women, children and young people at risk; people in severe need of medical care; survivors of torture and violence; refugees with legal and/or physical protection needs; refugees with medical needs or disabilities; persons at risk due to their sexual orientation or gender identity; and refugees with family links in resettlement countries.
The UNHCR carry out a series of checks which includes a robust identification process before referring someone to the UK Scheme. Referrals are then further screened and considered by the Home Office for suitability for entry to the UK. The Home Office check that they meet eligibility criteria and carry out medical and security checks. It retains the right to reject cases on the basis of security risk, war crimes or other grounds. By the time a UNHCR referred refugee arrives in the UK they have undergone a thorough two stage vetting process to ensure the Government knows who is entering the country. This includes the taking of biometrics, documentary evidence and interviews. Security is also regarded as a continual process that does not stop as soon as a refugee arrives in the UK.
The same checks apply to someone entering the UK under the Vulnerable Children's Resettlement Scheme.
Do the refugees have any choice about coming to Scotland?
Although they have a choice as to whether they wish to be resettled in the UK, they do not have any choice as to where in the UK (including Scotland) they will be placed. it is made clear to refugees before they arrive that they could be resettled anywhere in the UK as part of this programme. it is also made clear that they will be allocated accommodation of the same standard as that available to UK citizens.
Do they get receive orientation about life in the UK before they come?
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a worldwide inter-governmental organisation, is contracted by the UK Government to work with the families and individuals who have been selected under the Resettlement Programme. The refugees are given some understanding about the UK in general during cultural orientation sessions that IOM provide. In addition, they are given some information on the area they are being sent to provided by the Local Authority in question, which is expanded upon in more detailed orientation work carried out by Local Authorities once the refugees have arrived in Scotland.
How long does the Programme last?
The Prime Minister has committed that the UK will have accepted 20,000 refugees by the end of this parliamentary period (by 2020). All those entering the UK under the Syrian or Vulnerable Childrens Programmes have been granted 5 years leave to remain.
How is the Programme funded?
The Home Office provides per capita funding to Local Authorities for the five years for which the new arrivals have been granted humanitarian or refugee protection in the UK. This decreases in each subsequent year as the individuals become more integrated. There is also an 'extreme cases' fund which will assist with high cost cases. Other statutory services, e.g. the NHS, will receive funding through their normal routes after the first year.
What are the refugees entitled to?
All those entering the UK under the Resettlement Programme have been granted 5 years' leave to remain in the UK. They are entitled access to all statutory health, care and education services as if they were UK nationals during this time. They are also entitled to work and claim benefits, including child benefit, tax credit, Universal Credit, etc. At the end of the 5 years they can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
How are refugees allocated to Local Authorities?
All Local Authorities in Scotland are supportive of the Resettlement Programme. This does not however mean that all Local Authorities will be able to accommodate people arriving under the scheme. Local Authorities contact the Home Office asking to participate in the resettlement, and then enter a discussion with CoSLA around available housing and services from the Local Authority side as well as (from the Home Office side) the types of cases, families and individuals eligible for acceptance into the UK. On accepting a case, the Local Authority then needs to arrange housing, school places, etc. and an arrival date is agreed .
What if the refugees want to move once they have arrived?
It is expected that in most cases, refugees will want to stay in the area of the UK in which they have been resettled. However, they are free to move elsewhere in the UK if they choose. If they do wish to move to another part of the UK following their initial arrival and leave the area in which they have been resettled, they will no longer be entitled to the accommodation that had been allocated, and they will no longer have resettlement support in the Local Authority in which they were first placed. The refugees will be responsible for making their own arrangements for registering with the relevant statutory bodies in their new area, including schools, medical services, benefits, etc. The Local Authority where the refugees were initially placed is under no obligation to provide any assistance to help them move, although the new Local Authority should be informed that the refugee is planning to move to that area.
What about unaccompanied or orphaned children?
Under the SVPRS, unaccompanied children are not eligible for resettlement. Unaccompanied children may be eligible, however, under the Vulnerable Children's Resettlement Scheme and there are other separate measures to resettle unaccopmanied children in the UK.
I would like to help - what should I do?
It is appreciated that many Scottish people want to reach out and help in the crisis. You should check your local authority's website as there may be information about how you can help there, or you can get in touch with them and ask for the Syrian Resettlement Programme Lead Officer.
The best thing that anyone can do is make the new arrivals feel welcome and accepted within their communities.