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The government’s pledge to provide assistance to 20,000 people fleeing the conflict in Syria by 2020 has been criticised for several reasons. While some argue that not enough has been done in comparison to countries like Germany where 890,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in 2015. The scheme has also been criticised as it fails to take into account other countries caught up in the conflict. This has now been amended, and Home Secretary Amber Rudd expanded the reach of the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS) to include Iraqi, Palestinian and Kurdish nationals caught up in the conflict. The 20,000 target remains unchanged.
The policy changes were announced following advice from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) who identified that the existing scheme did not take into account the needs of the refugee population in the region. A more diverse scheme was needed in order to respond to the crisis. In a statement, Amber Rudd said: “It is vitally important that we focus our support on the most vulnerable refugees in the region who have fled the atrocities in Syria, whatever their nationality. We will continue to work with local authorities and the UNHCR, whose hard work so far has made sure that the scheme is a success.”
In addition to the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme, the government has also pledged support for young people with the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme. This scheme aims to resettle 3,000 of the most vulnerable young people and their families from the Middle East and North Africa by the same 2020 deadline. On the UNHRC’s recommendation, the scheme doesn’t only support unaccompanied children but has been extended to include at-risk groups including those at risk of child marriage or child labour.
Since the SVPRS scheme was announced, around two-thirds of local councils have signed up to pledge their support to resettling refugees. Around one-third of councils cited financial pressures or housing shortages as the reason they cannot commit to the SVPRS. The government has pledged £2.46 billion to help tackle the refugee crisis, and local councils can claim £8,520 per person from the government to help with costs like housing, translation, transport and other administration tasks. The scheme isn’t compulsory, and some haven’t signed up because council leaders have estimated that this only covers around 70-80% of the total costs.