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Syrian Refugees (Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme)

Volume 590: debated on Monday 5 January 2015

10. How many Syrian refugees have been resettled in the UK under the Government’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme to date. (906753)

We remain on track to relocate several hundred people under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme over the next three years. Between the first group of arrivals on 25 March and the end of September, 90 people were relocated to the UK under the scheme. In addition, over 3,400 Syrians and their dependants have been granted asylum or other forms of leave to remain since the start of the crisis.

The Minister will no doubt be aware that 2015 has already seen two worrying trends for Syrians fleeing the violence of war: first, an increase in restrictions imposed on those seeking to settle in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon; and secondly, even more refugees boarding boats and taking risky journeys in the Mediterranean. Does he recognise that our unwillingness to offer anything more than tokenistic safe legal routes for resettlement and family reunification of refugees exacerbates both those trends? We have no moral standing when arguing with neighbouring countries that they should keep their borders open, and desperate people will take any route to try to improve their lives when facing violence such as Syria’s.

This Government have taken important steps by providing aid that is benefiting hundreds of thousands of people in the region, and focusing on some of the most vulnerable cases that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme is designed to address. On borders, we are supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and we are in dialogue with Syria’s neighbours, recognising the importance of effective management and also the fact that international law is clear that refugees should not be turned back in these circumstances.

Italian Ministers told the European Scrutiny Committee that increasingly people coming on boats and being rescued from them are refugees from areas such as Syria, not just economic migrants. When will the Government sign up to the UN programme so that we do our fair share, like other countries?

This country is doing its fair share in many different ways through the direct aid that is being provided—£700 million that is directly affecting and benefiting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people—and the asylum that is being granted through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. We are also working overseas with countries affected to create a long-term settlement of this issue, as well as confronting the organised crime that exploits the vulnerable.

The UK does indeed have a very proud tradition of offering refuge to those in desperate need. The Government’s relocation programme for Syrian refugees was supposed to help orphan children, sexually abused women, victims of torture, and those needing specialist medical treatment. Other European countries are providing this support, with 310 people going to Ireland, 1,000 people going to Norway, and 1,200 people going to Sweden. As the Minister said, in the UK last year only 90 people were accepted. How many victims—specifically, how many orphan children and sexually abused women—will the UK be offering support to this year?

We remain on track to support several hundred vulnerable individuals over the next three years. The figures underline that. Those who benefit from the scheme are chosen by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with whom we work in close co-operation. It is therefore the UNHCR that advances and puts forward individual cases based on the vulnerability-type factors that the hon. Lady identified.