Britain considering extending rescue of most vulnerable Syrian refugees - Rudd


Britain is considering extending its commitment to resettle vulnerable refugees from the brutal Syrian civil war, the Home Secretary said, as the number already brought to the UK passed 10,000.

Amber Rudd said she was hopeful the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), which aims to rehome 20,000 people by 2020, would hit its target early.

Figures released on Thursday by the Home Office showed 10,538 people have been granted refuge in Britain under the scheme.

Speaking on a trip to a camp in Lebanon, less than 15 miles from the Syrian border, Ms Rudd said she was already holding talks about what may follow the scheme.

The bloody conflict shows little sign of ending and allowing displaced families to return home, with hundreds killed since the weekend in Eastern Ghouta.

Amber Rudd said she was hopeful the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme would hit its target early (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon has said that Britain and the rest of Europe need to step up and rehouse half-a-million refugees.

On her trip to Lebanon on Monday, which can be reported for the first time today, Ms Rudd met a family who are due to be rehoused in Britain before she visited an informal tented settlement (ITS) in the town of Qab Elias.

There she met some of the 46 families - around 200 people - who have called it home since fleeing Syria.

Ms Rudd told the Press Association: "Twenty thousand is definitely achievable by 2020 and I hope that we may get there earlier than that in fact, and at the moment I am consulting with stakeholders and really engaging with other departments to decide what we should have to replace that when we go forward after 2020.

"The UK's approach is a dual approach. One, we help with funds - we are one of the largest bilateral donors to help in the region, we have done £2.46 billion since the Syrian crisis (began) - and also to do resettlements.

"I hope it will involve both of those going forward after 2020."

Syrian refugees at the Qab Elias Informal Settlement in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, close to the Syrian border (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ms Rudd spoke as rebel-held area Eastern Ghouta, outside the capital Damascus, was shelled by Syrian government and Russian forces. The death toll from the relentless artillery strikes has passed 250.

The VPRS's 20,000 target was set by then prime minister David Cameron in September 2015.

The first 12 months of a refugee's resettlement costs are funded by the UK Government using the overseas aid budget.

The UK has also committed £2.46 billion in funding.

Mireille Girard, the UNHCR representative in Lebanon, said the Qab Elias ITS was "really far from what we would call the standard for a refugee settlement", and before the war it had housed seasonal agricultural workers.

It was now home to families who were on average 800 US dollars in debt to the landlord and struggled to find work.

While each family has fresh water and a toilet, she added: "These are not conditions for people to remain in until peace happens in Syria, so we pick the most vulnerable people.

"Unfortunately not more than that because we don't have enough resettlement quota from all the countries.

"The UK has done very well, we are very grateful for that, you have taken a remarkable number of people - we are reaching 10,000 this year.

"But still it is a drop in the sea compared to what is needed. We will need the UK to do more and we will need all countries to contribute to this programme so we can remove at least 10% of the refugee population from this region, which is five million large.

"Ten per cent will not be an enormous number for Europe or the rest of the world."

Ms Rudd said that the British public should be proud of what the VPRS had achieved, adding: "It is the largest number of any European country of resettlement from the region, it is the largest the UK has done from the region and people have been very kind about saying how effective it is and how good the care is when people get to the local authority.

"So I think it is an important contribution to our overall commitment helping in this region."