UK Syria refugee programme working 'by and large' as over 8,000 arrive: UN study


More than 8,000 refugees have arrived in the UK and been given access to life-saving medical treatment, education and safe accommodation under the Government's Syrian resettlement scheme, a report from the United Nations has said.

In 2015, ministers committed to taking in 20,000 Syrians driven from the war-torn country by 2020, following a public outcry over the fate of those attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has now conducted a study, alongside the International Organisation for Migration and City University London, to monitor how those who have already arrived in the UK have integrated into their new country.

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A total of 167 refugees from the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) were interviewed as part of the report, more than half of whom were previously refugees in Lebanon, with the remainder travelling from Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.

The report found that the programme was working "relatively well", and said that refugees "were grateful for the genuine welcome they had received".

As well as being "heartened" that their children could attend school and catch up on lost education, the refugees reported feeling safe in their homes and neighbourhoods.

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The study also said the VPRS had played a "key role" in securing life-saving medical support for many resettled Syrians.

However, the report highlighted a number of areas for improvement, including in English language provision, and further support for housing and gaining employment.

Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, the UNHCR's representative in London, said: "The UK clearly has the capacity to resettle meaningful numbers of refugees.

"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.

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"We hope that, with development, this model can help more refugees, from Syria and elsewhere, resettle here after 2020."

The UNHCR urged the UK Government to consider adopting a national UK refugee integration strategy, to create a clear vision of how to integrate refugees and to better inform and guide those supporting refugees.

The report stated that while a small number of those interviewed had gained employment, existing work promotion schemes were limited, highlighting the need for further support to refugees on the road to employment. Some councils felt they would benefit from a national plan for employers and refugees.

Other proposals included strengthening the provision of appropriate housing by the central Government, after the study found the stock of affordable rental property was small and diminishing, as well as making family reunification planning more integral in the VPRS.

Mr Vargas Llosa added: "Our hope is that, building on the success of the VPRS to date, the UK will commit to resettling 10,000 vulnerable refugees a year."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK is now resettling people on an unprecedented scale and resettled more refugees than any other country in the EU in 2016.

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"Over 8,500 people, half of whom are children, have already arrived on the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme and are rebuilding their lives in the UK.

"We recognise that refugees need to be helped to integrate into society and we have put in place significant measures to ensure this can happen.

"On English language skills specifically, this has included providing £10 million to help local authorities make sure more tuition is available and introducing measures to ensure refugees have access to eight hours' formal tuition a week."