UK's capacity doubts over thousands of Syrian refugees


MPs have raised doubts over whether Britain is prepared for the arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees under the Government's expanded resettlement programme.

An annual average of 4,000 people would need to be brought to the UK from camps around the war-torn country every year if the pledge to resettle 20,000 before the end of this parliament is met.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee said: "At no point in the recent past has the UK come near to resettling 4,000 refugees in one year."

Ministers have said the number of arrivals is likely to fluctuate from quarter to quarter but Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said the equivalent rate of 333 people being resettled each month is almost 400% greater than the highest recorded level.

He said: "This is a huge change in the scale of refugee resettlement undertaken by the UK and we are concerned about our real level of preparedness and ability to increase capacity to manage such numbers at short notice."

The Labour MP also criticised the Government's refusal to disclose how many refugees have arrived since the scheme was announced by David Cameron in September.

Appearing before the committee earlier this month, Syrian refugees minister Richard Harrington repeatedly refused to reveal the number, saying he was not prepared to provide a "running commentary". Mr Cameron later said the aim is to ensure 1,000 refugees arrive in the UK before Christmas.

Mr Vaz said: "The Government's continual refusal to tell the committee how many Syrian refugees have arrived undermines Parliament's ability to scrutinise progress."

The committee called on the Government to reconsider how the the public can help by offering housing for refugees.

In response to the report Mr Harrington said: "The UK has been at the forefront of the international response to the crisis in Syria and we are providing more than £1.12 billion in humanitarian aid.

"We have also taken in almost 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers since 2011.

"As the Prime Minister has said, we intend to resettle 1,000 Syrians through our expanded Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement (VPR) by Christmas and we have already welcomed and successfully resettled a number of vulnerable people who were in desperate need of our help.

"The scale of the expansion needs careful planning to ensure we get it right, that is why we are continuing to work closely with the UNHCR, local government associations, NGOs and partner organisations in order to resettle 20,000 people by the end of this Parliament."

He said there are plans to establish a register of those who can provide houses for refugees and develop a "community sponsorship scheme" allowing members of the public and groups to provide direct support.

Mr Vaz also raised concerns about a backlog of immigration cases.

"The current backlog of immigration cases at the Home Office is now a third of a million, greater than the combined populations of Reading and Oxford," he said.