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Citizenship

The UK Has Welcomed More Than 8,000 Syrian Refugees

Britain has welcomed more than 8,000 refugees who have been forced to flee from conflict in Syria. 

The families have been offered shelter as part of the government’s refugee resettlement programme, which was launched in 2014. 

The scheme committed to rehousing 20,000 refugees by 2020, however, which means there is still a lot of work to be done — with a further 12,000 people to be resettled in the next 2 years. 

Take action: Refugee? Migrant? Human Being. Show Your Support for All People — No Matter Where They Were Born

Resettled families told the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, that they are grateful for the “genuine” welcome that they’ve received in the UK, while the boss of charity Refugee Action said Britons should “feel proud.” 

The vulnerable person resettlement scheme (VPRS) was launched after a spike in public pressure to help people fleeing the Syrian conflict — which sparked one of the largest refugee crises of recent decades. 

It was expanded in July 2017, to include those affected by the Syrian conflict who weren’t Syrian nationals.

“Resettlement programmes, like the VPRS, offer a vital lifeline, allowing them to rebuild their lives without embarking on perilous journeys,” said a statement released by the UNHCR. 

Read more: This Scottish Charity Is Using Cups of Tea to Welcome Refugees to the UK

“Brits should feed proud that thousands of families have already been welcomed as part of this programme,” Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, told the Independent. “But it’s essential that refugees resettled here are given the right support to successfully rebuild their lives."

The UNHCR released a report on Thursday, entitled “ Towards Integration ”, that outlines the successes of the integration system, and where there is more work to be done. 

With two-thirds of people in the scheme being survivors of violence and torture, or with specific medical needs, one of the particular successes is that these people have been able to access in some cases life-saving medical treatment. 

Parents also expressed in the report their relief that their children can attend school again and catch up on years of lost education, and can feel safe in their home and in their neighbourhood. 

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One family, Hamza, Asma, and their three children, arrived in the UK in 2016, and now live in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Hamza spoke of the warm welcome he and his family had received. 

“People are so friendly here,” he told UNHCR. 

Ramzy, another VPRS refugee living in Abingdon, also felt happy and settled. 

“I like it here,” he said. “People have been very welcoming.” 

UNHCR also spoke to 12-year-old Mohammad, who arrived with his family in Scotland in 2016 and was about to start school in Edinburgh.

“I miss Damascus, but I look forward to school,” said Mohammad. “I want to be a doctor. I want to help people.” 

UNHCR_family_Syria_UKMohammad (left), 12, has resettled with his family in Edinburgh, Scotland, after fleeing from the Syrian conflict.
Image: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

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The UNHCR interviewed 167 refugees for the report — the majority of those interviewed were previously refugees in Lebanon, while the remainder had travelled from Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq. 

Many also said they were impressed by the efficiency of local and national government in the UK. 

For the resettlement process, the UNHCR refers refugees to the Home Office for eligibility, medical, and security checks. When accepted, refugees are referred to the local authorities for resettlement.

“The UK clearly has the capacity to resettle meaningful numbers of refugees,” said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, the UNHCR representative in London. 

“Integration of refugees is complex. By and large, it is working and support for integration — from the public, local authorities, and government — has been striking. We hope that with development, this model can help more refugees from Syria and elsewhere resettle here after 2020.” 

Read more: This British Couple Have Transformed Their Home Into a Countryside Haven for Refugees

But the report also highlighted the areas where there is room for improvement. 

Part of the resettlement scheme includes the opportunity to learn the English language, and, while classes were well attended, many adults were found to be struggling with the language. Some schools were found not to be aware of extra funding available for lessons.

Refugees also reported a lack of further support for housing, and for finding a job. Some said that affordable rented property was becoming increasingly hard to find, while it was found that integration in the local community was harder in rural areas of the UK.

Meanwhile, many who said they wanted to start working and making a contribution to society said it was difficult to find work — although some had only been in the UK for a short time.  

The UNHCR is calling for the establishment of a national integration strategy to better inform and guide those supporting refugees, as well as supporting the refugees themselves, for example, with more work promotion schemes. 

“Our hope is that, building on the success of the VPRS to date, the UK will commit to resettling 10,000 vulnerable refugees a year,” added Llosa.

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But while the number of resettled families is promising, Britain “could and should” shelter thousands more people, according to Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party.

“We are living through the worst refugee crisis on record,” he said, according to the Independent . “As well as resettling refugees from the camps in Syria, the government must do more to help those who have made perilous journeys to get here, especially lone children.” 

More than six years since the Syrian conflict began, Syrians still constitute the largest refugee population in the world — over five million people have had to flee to neighbouring countries. 

As fighting is still flaring in the country, conditions are not yet in place for the refugees to return.  

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