Syrian Refugee Resettlement
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. 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 the start of 2016, refugees have continued to arrive and settle in Scotland and it is expected that the large majority of Scotland’s councils will have received Syrian refugees by mid-2016. Local authorities, and Scotland’s communities, have been rightly commended by the Scottish Government for their efforts and enthusiasm in welcoming and accepting those displaced and resettled by the crisis.
Through our role as the Strategic Migration Partnership for Scotland, COSLA has worked across all 32 councils in Scotland to help coordinate efforts between councils, 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.
How are people selected to come to the UK?
- The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) refers refugees to the UK Government for reloation 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 on security, war crimes or other grounds. By the time a UNHCR referred refugee arrives in the UK they have been through 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.
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 any preparation 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, the UK Government is currently developing a welcome pack that will be made available to the refugees. This will be augmented by a Scotland-specific pack being prepared by Scottish Government, and information on the area they are being sent to provided by the Local Authority in question. More detailed orientation work is carried out by Local Authorities once the refugees arrive in the UK.
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. All those entering the UK under the Programme have been granted 5 years humanitarian protection.
How is the Programme funded?
- The Home Office provides funding to the Local Authorities for the five years for which the new arrivals have been granted humanitarian protection in the UK. This is on a sliding scale over the five year period, with most being in the first year. There is also an 'extreme cases' fund which will assis 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 humanitarian protection. Under the humanitarian protection visa, people are entitled to access to public funds, access to the labour market and the possibility of family reunion. This means they are entitled to health and care services, education and other services as if they were UK natives during this time. They are also entitled to work and claim benefits, including child benefit, tax credit, job seekers allowance, etc.
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 are 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 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 between the Home Office and Local Authority.
- The Home Office has indicated that it will seek to ensure an equitable distribution of refugees across the UK so that no individual Local Authority bears a disproportionate share of the Programme.
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 initiallly 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?
- Unaccompanied children are not included in the current Programme, although the UK Government are currently considering separate measures to resettle a small number of very vulnerable young people to the UK. These young people will be in addition to the 20,000 people who the Government have committed to resettle under the main scheme.
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. it may be there are instructions on your Local Authority's website as to how to offer help, support or donations. If there are not, contact your Local Authority (ask for the Syrian Resettlement Programme Lead Officer) or alternatively register on the Scotland Welcomes Refugees website, and someone from the Scottish Refugee Council will link you in.
- The best thing people can do is make the new arrivals feel welcome and accepted within their communities.