My Lords, the UK Government are committed to resettling refugees to the UK and we continue to work closely with domestic and international partners to assess capacity for resettlement activity as we recover from the pandemic. This commitment, alongside a fair and firm asylum system, will ensure that we continue to offer safe and legal routes to the UK for vulnerable refugees who need our protection.
My Lords, only 800 people were resettled in the UK last year, compared to 5,600 in 2019. This is against the UNHCR’s assessment of the global need for almost 1.5 million places. Why have the Government failed to fulfil their pledge of a new consolidated UK resettlement scheme to succeed the schemes closed a year ago? Will the Minister now give an assurance not only of 5,000 places here in the current year but of an ambitious 10-year commitment to resettle vulnerable refugees from Syria and other conflict areas?
I am very glad that the noble Baroness recognises the extent of our efforts to resettle people who need our protection. She is right to point out that not many resettled last year, but of course we had, and continue to have, a global pandemic. To move people, unless absolutely vital, was not advisable at that time. However, it is vital that we continue to provide those safe and legal routes for people in need of our protection. Refugee resettlement will continue to be a core safe and legal route for those vulnerable people.
Across Europe, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of unaccompanied young refugees are suffering. They are being abused and trafficked, are self-harming and some have taken their own lives. In January 2020, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which Winston Churchill helped found and of which we remain leading members, called for each member state to appoint a parliamentary commissioner to oversee the work of caring for refugee migrant children. What has been the Government’s response?
The noble Lord will know that we have left the European Union—[Interruption.] I will get to that if noble Lords do not interject. Our commitment is to resettle people from around the world who need our protection. It has been difficult to achieve resettlement in the last few months, but our commitment is not dimmed despite the pandemic hindering some of our efforts.
My Lords, the Government’s own documents say that resettlement schemes
“target those in greatest need … including … survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk.”
Does the Minister agree that an apology is owed to the 3,477 people accepted on to the new UK resettlement scheme this year for the unexplained and, quite frankly, inexplicable delay to their arrival in the UK?
Naturally the pandemic has hindered our efforts. Everything has been delayed, including resettlement schemes. We have restarted the resettlement schemes because we have reached over 20,000 under our previous commitment. I am not sure “apology” is the right word as we are doing everything we can, and we have restarted our resettlement schemes.
My Lords, I mention in passing how much work is being done by Arts Council-funded organisations to support and help refugees. I have a specific question for the Minister: how many family reunion visas have been granted in the last five years?
I join my noble friend in paying tribute to those Arts Council organisations. Their efforts are very much appreciated. We have issued almost 30,000 family reunion visas in the last five years. This House often goes on about Dublin transfers, quite rightly, but those figures pale into insignificance compared with the number of family reunion visas we have issued.
My Lords, the Minister explained delays in getting refugees into this country as being due to the pandemic. But in 2019, UK resettlement took 63 weeks on average, compared with the 35 weeks that had previously been the norm. Can the Minister explain why that process had lengthened to such an extent and reassure the House that this prolonged delay is not an attempt to reduce refugee resettlement?
Any delays in resettlement are in no way an attempt to frustrate resettlement—quite the contrary. My noble friend will have heard me say how many people we resettled between 2010 and this year under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, which was well over 20,000—far in excess of some of the numbers suggested. It is absolutely not an attempt to frustrate the system; in fact, we have restarted our resettlement schemes.
I am a trustee of Reset and a member of the RAMP project. As the Minister knows, stakeholders continue to warn that, without parity of the timing of the resettlement scheme and a long-term funding commitment, they are unable to plan their services to resettle refugees. Indeed, some are having to place staff on notice and scale back their existing operations. Can the Government confirm now when the scheme will be launched for the long term with secure funding from the Treasury?
I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the meeting I had with him and Reset. We talked about funding and the importance of the security of funding. We will continue with resettlement. That process has been paused and almost stopped at times, but we are reworking our approach to asylum to deliver a fair but firm system. I look forward to bringing those provisions forward.
My Lords, the key word in the Minister’s Answer was “legal”. I point out that we have a lot of refugee programmes and a visa programme for Chinese nationals. When we look at the resettlement scheme, I ask the Minister to ensure that, when we choose the refugees to resettle, we pay some attention, like the Canadian Government do, to the contribution they can make to the British economy and its future?
I totally agree with my noble friend. Just because someone is a refugee, it does not mean they cannot contribute to society and the economy. Many of them can and are highly skilled. Going back to the conversation I had with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, that is precisely what we are looking at. These people have much to contribute to our economy.
We in the UK cannot easily imagine and must not forget the extent of suffering in cities such as Aleppo and Idlib. I am glad we have a good reputation for resettlement. Following the right reverend Prelate’s question, can the Government explain the true situation of local authorities and confirm that they really are ready to welcome a further 5,000 vulnerable refugees under the new UK resettlement scheme? What is the cause of any delay? I understand people are being laid off.
The noble Earl is right to point out that we are dependent on local authority places and accommodation to bring forward resettlement. We are very grateful to local authorities, but we cannot go beyond their capacity. We will launch the new UK global resettlement scheme in March this year. We intended to launch it in March last year, but clearly the pandemic placed restrictions on this. Resettlement arrivals have been coming since December 2020. We have received regular calls for that commitment, and it will be forthcoming.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have now been asked and we move to the next Question.