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Syrian Refugees

Volume 602: debated on Monday 16 November 2015

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out on 19 October, our intention is to welcome 1,000 Syrian refugees before Christmas. The Government are working closely with others to put in place the plans and structures to deliver this. Details of numbers will be published in the regular quarterly immigration statistics.

My city of Manchester is very willing to take its fair and equitable share of refugees, but has not had a fair share of local government funding cuts in recent years. In the light of that, will the Home Secretary commit to funding the resettlement scheme fully, and extend local authority funding to support refugees beyond one year to a minimum of three years?

The costs for the first year of resettlement will be met in full; that is possible under the official development assistance budget. The Treasury is looking at what funding will be made available for subsequent years.

On behalf of my constituents, may I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s remarks concerning events in Paris at the weekend? Our sympathies are with those who suffered. We want to see the Prime Minister’s objectives met. The events of the weekend have verified that he is right to seek refugees who have UN approval, but, given those events, will the Home Secretary go further and make sure that the credentials of every refugee coming to this country are double-checked?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We want to ensure that we can put into action our undertaking to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over this Parliament. As he implies, we take them directly from camps, so that we are able to take the most vulnerable, but we also ensure that there are proper security checks. In fact, at the moment, there are two levels of security checks: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees undertakes security checks that involve biometrics, the checking of documents and interviews; and further checks, including further biometrics, are undertaken by the Home Office once people have been referred to it for resettlement in the UK.

The Home Secretary will know that many of the Syrian refugees whom Britain expects to help over the coming months are fleeing exactly the same terrible ISIS brutality that we saw on the streets of Paris this weekend. Does she agree with me that, as we stand in solidarity with Paris, it is important that we both strengthen our security against such barbarism and continue to give sanctuary to those fleeing it, so that we ensure that the terrorists cannot win?

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: many of those refugees will be fleeing ISIS. Of course, some will be fleeing the actions of the Syrian Government. It is important that we provide sanctuary to those who have been displaced by conflict in Syria, partly by resettling a number of refugees here in the United Kingdom. As the right hon. Lady will know, we are also the second biggest bilateral donor to the region of funds to support refugees; a very important contribution of £1.1 billion is made by the UK taxpayer.

21. What steps the Government is taking to tackle people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Prior to resettlement, a mechanism needs to be established through which refugees can claim asylum. What is the impact of this on the overall progress towards resettlement? (902168)

Refugees who are resettled under the scheme for resettling Syrian refugees are provided with five years of humanitarian protection. Of course, there are also individuals who will come here and claim asylum and who will be dealt with under the normal asylum processes, but those who are resettled under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme are given five years’ humanitarian protection here in the UK.

On behalf of representatives from Northern Ireland, may I associate myself with the comments of the Home Secretary and commend her for the stance she took during the weekend? Had someone suggested a week ago that the refugee crisis was being abused by terrorists, they could have been set aside as a heartless xenophobe. I fear that the public will not be as resistant to that message as they would have been a week ago. How do we ensure that the compassion of this country is kept to the fore, while recognising that there will always be a few who abuse our good will?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The British people showed huge compassion and there was an outpouring of offers of help for those who would be resettled from Syria. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees is looking at how we can ensure that those offers of help can be turned into practical assistance. That generosity of spirit will, I am sure, continue. There has been quite a lot of speculation in the press about the potential abuse of the route for refugees to come into Europe. It is important not to make judgments until the full facts are known.

Many local authorities, including my own, wish to resettle some of the Syrian refugees who may come into the country. If the refugees are dispersed around the country, some families will inevitably lose contact with loved ones and will wish to get in touch. Will a database be available to them as a means of communication?

Obviously, records of where the Syrian refugees are resettled will be maintained. If I understand my hon. Friend’s question, it was about Syrian refugees who may wish to access information about others who may have come to the country. As she will have noticed, the Minister is here and will have heard that, and he will consider the point she has made.

On behalf of the Scottish National party, may I associate myself with the comments of the Home Secretary in relation to the terrible events in Paris on Friday night? With the first 100 Syrian refugees due to arrive in Scotland for resettlement this week, does the Home Secretary agree that it is imperative to make it clear to the public that these refugees are fleeing the same evil forces as were behind the attacks in Paris? Will she work with the Scottish Government and local authorities throughout the country to make sure that communities are supported to understand that and to make the vulnerable refugees feel as welcome as possible?

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her remarks. It is one of the reasons why I was very clear yesterday when I did a television interview and set out the security arrangements that we have in place in relation to refugees, so that people can set aside concerns and understand that there are proper security arrangements. These individuals have been fleeing evil of various sorts, including the very evil that led to the attacks in Paris on Friday, and we wish them to be welcomed and to be able to reach sanctuary here and get the assistance that they need for their particular concerns, medical or otherwise. So it is right that the whole House should send out a message that we welcome and open our arms to those who have fled for their lives from the terrible evil of what is taking place in Syria.

Like colleagues across the House, I have received many generous offers of support from my constituents for refugees fleeing unimaginable violence in Syria. Will the Home Secretary join me in thanking Dartington Hall in my constituency, which is offering not only to house refugees, but to provide them with valuable support? Will she assure me that everything is being done to make sure that such clear and credible offers of support are generously followed up?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the offer that has been made by Dartington Hall in respect not just of accommodation, but of support for refugees. That has been mirrored by organisations around the country. It is right that the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees has been working with charities, faith groups and other organisations to make sure not only that all the offers of help are listed and looked at, but that we can turn them into practical help for Syrian refugees, depending on what support is appropriate in the circumstances of the refugees that come to any particular region, such as my hon. Friend’s constituency.

The hon. and learned Lady is welcome to have a second bite of the cherry, on the assumption that the bite is small.

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. We are all aware that the Syrian refugees who are coming to the United Kingdom are particularly vulnerable individuals. They will need time and privacy to settle and integrate into the communities that they go to. Will the Home Secretary tell us what work the Home Office is doing to support local communities to give the refugees the time and privacy to integrate?

I am happy to tell the hon. and learned Lady that a considerable amount of work is being done by the Home Office, primarily with the local authorities that are receiving the Syrian refugees, to discuss the sort of support that is available to them. That links in to the last question I answered from my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston): it will often be possible for charities and other organisations to provide support and help for refugees in settling into life in whichever part of the United Kingdom they come to.

May I, too, join the Home Secretary in the comments she made at the beginning of Question Time? In the light of the terrible events in Paris this weekend, which we in this House are united in condemning, it is vital that the first refugees to arrive in the UK from Syria are properly supported and welcomed. As the Prime Minister has said, those who will be brought here are among the most vulnerable men, women and children in the refugee camps. What steps have been taken to ensure that adequate resources are allocated to provide not only the necessary accommodation, but the care and support that will be needed? What messages are planned to ensure that they are welcomed when they arrive here?

The considerable amount of work that the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees has been doing with teams from the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for International Development is about ensuring that those refugees who are referred to the UK and accepted for resettlement here are given the right package of support. It is not simply a case of allocation; there is careful consideration of what is available in any particular local authority in terms of accommodation or to meet the medical needs that individuals have. A considerable amount of work goes into ensuring that people are given the right support when they come to whichever area they come to. It is also important to recognise that individuals and families should be given a degree of privacy. They are making a huge move in coming to the UK, so it is right to give them not just the right support, but the time and space to settle into the UK.