Skip to main content

Syrian Families: Resettlement Programme

Volume 614: debated on Monday 5 September 2016

1. What progress the Government have made in placing further vulnerable Syrian families in local authority areas. (906079)

Under the scheme, local authorities sign up to accept refugees on a voluntary basis. Between the start of October 2015 and the end of June 2016, 2,646 people were resettled under the scheme across 118 different local authorities. The resettlement programme has sufficient pledges of places from local authorities across the UK to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrians and will continue to work closely with them to turn those pledges into places.

I welcome this Government’s record in supporting the people of Syria. Many councils across this country are playing their part by taking in refugees. I am encouraging the local authorities in my constituency to do that, but they need support. Will the Home Secretary update the House on what support and encouragement she is giving to local authorities to do just that?

I ask my hon. Friend to pass on my congratulations to his authority on its kind support. It is essential that the scheme is implemented on a voluntary basis. He is right: we provide support over a five-year period, and it is tapered, but we recognise that it is important to provide essential financial support to the local authorities which are supporting these vulnerable Syrians.

I welcome the Home Secretary to her first Home Office questions and wish her well in the job.

I welcome the work that local authorities are doing. The right hon. Lady will know that two weeks ago several of us met a Syrian teenager in Calais whose family is here in Britain and who was given take charge leave by the British Government two months ago, but who is still in Calais alone in awful and dangerous conditions. He has now been given a transfer date for later this week, but only because three MPs and two national newspapers intervened in his case. There are hundreds more children and teenagers in Calais in awful conditions. Will she urgently intervene, speed up the bureaucracy and sort out those cases?

I recognise the excellent work that the right hon. Lady does in this area in drawing attention to the needs of the people in the Calais camp. She may already be aware of this, but I point out to the general public that that is French territory and it is French law that we have to engage with in order to help those people. We are identifying the children who we can help and we are now able to speed up that process and will continue to watch it carefully.

Will the Home Secretary join me in commending local volunteer groups such as Refugees Welcome in Richmond, which has set up its own initiative, liaising with local councils to make sure that new people coming over—vulnerable Syrian refugees—are locally and specially welcomed in our local communities?

I join my hon. Friend in making that point—how important it is for families to be welcomed by the community. These families are not foisted on the community; communities are saying that they want to welcome them. I commend what is being done in Richmond, and I know that many other communities and individuals are volunteering to help. Some of them are going on the website Help Refugees in the UK in order to find out how they can help.

I welcome the Home Secretary to her first Home Office questions. I also welcome her confirmation yesterday that there are going to be enough local authority places for the promised quota of 20,000 vulnerable Syrians to be resettled by 2020. I am sure she will wish to congratulate Scotland on welcoming more than 1,000 of those refugees under the scheme to date, which is more than a third of the total number who have been accepted in the whole of the UK. Will she now commit to extending the Government’s resettlement commitment past 2020 and opening it up to other refugees in need of protection?

I join the hon. and learned Lady in congratulating Scotland on the work that it has done and on its early adoption. Who can forget the early pictures of the refugees arriving on the Isle of Bute and what a heart-warming sight that was? There is still work to do to welcome the 20,000. I was pleased to announce over the weekend additional funding for language courses for those people. For now we will not go further, but we will of course continually keep the situation under review.

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to her more than deserved place. I strongly suspect that you, Mr Speaker, and indeed the whole House, will welcome the four Syrian refugee families who are now housed in Beeston in my constituency, and congratulate Broxtowe Borough Council and Councillors Jan Goold and Janet Patrick on all their hard work. What assurances can the Home Secretary give to councils such as Broxtowe that the current financial support will extend for as long as it takes to keep people safe in our country?

I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating Broxtowe Council on the work that it has done to welcome those families. I can reassure her and her council that the funds are in place for the five years that are tapered. I hope that she will also welcome the announcement I made at the weekend on additional funding for English language lessons, which are so important as part of allowing these families to form part of the community and fully engage in it.

I commend the Home Secretary for the early initiative she has taken on this issue. She will be aware, however, that many local authorities have not yet been required to take any refugees, while others are taking them and would take more. Does that willingness to take refugees not illustrate that the target of 20,000 by 2020 was unnecessarily modest and could now be revisited?

I am not yet ready to say that 20,000 is not enough. We have worked incredibly hard to make sure that the 20,000 are welcomed and are going to be properly looked after. The important thing is to concentrate on making sure that every one of those 20,000 gets the proper support from the communities in which they are housed, and gets the important language lessons. I ask for the right hon. Gentleman’s patience in making sure that we support the 20,000 over the next few years.

It is not just a question of numbers; we have to make sure that we get the right people. I very much welcome the fact that we are bringing them in from the middle east rather than from Calais. I congratulate Wiltshire Council, which has taken on, I think, 20 Syrian families so far. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of the people but of finding education, healthcare, social care and so much other infrastructure in the local area, and hopefully jobs for them as well, and not just bringing them in and leaving them to it?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we are taking these families through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which vets the potential arrivals very carefully and ensures that we are getting the people who are indeed most in need, to which my hon. Friend rightly draws attention. Local authorities decide whether they have the capacity in terms of health places and school places. We are very fortunate in this country that sufficient authorities have volunteered to help the 20,000. That is testament to the strength and generosity of the British people.