The future of the programme to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain could be put at risk by a lack of 10,600 school places and nearly 5,000 suitable homes by 2020, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has warned.
The National Audit Office said that the Home Office has enough indicative pledges from 118 local authorities to meet the 20,000 target but that it was essential the pledges materialise into firm offers of support.
The NAO said the programme was successfully expanded at speed to reach its initial target of resettling 1,000 Syrian refugees by last Christmas and is underpinned by strong working relationships between central and local government.
But an investigation into the resettlement programme by the watchdog found no official figures existed for its total projected costs, and estimated they could reach £1.1bn by March 2020 and up to £1.7bn over its lifetime.
David Cameron made the commitment last September to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees by 2020. The programme is only open to registered refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Eqypt and Turkey and has been an alternative to participating in the European Union’s emergency relocation scheme for refugees who have reached Europe.
By June 2016, 2,659 refugees had arrived in Britain under the scheme – 13% of the overall target. By comparison Germany had resettled more than 19,000 people by May 2016 under its humanitarian assistance programme. In Canada more than 26,000 Syrian refugees were resettled between November 2015 and March 2016, exceeding its 25,000 target.
Refugees who have come to Britain on the resettlement programme told the NAO that their experience had been largely positive and they had been warmly welcomed by local communities but uncertainty about their status had caused them some anxiety.
Meg Hillier, the chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said that local authorities in the UK should be applauded for stepping up to help Syrian refugees in desperate need.
But already under-pressure local authorities will have to find over 10,600 childcare and school places and nearly 5,000 homes over the course of the programme as well as social and community support services.
We need to be convinced that the government is committed to supporting local authorities in their efforts and is clear about its expectations and funding beyond the first year of a refugee’s stay in the UK, she said.
The NAO report confirms that most of the costs of each refugee’s first year in Britain is paid for out of the overseas aid budget. A total of £20,530 for each refugee over their five years on the programme is being made available to local authorities.
Local authorities told the NAO that the main reason they may not be able to take part in the programme in the future was a possible lack of suitable flats and houses or childcare and school places. An estimated 4,930 extra homes and 10,664 school places for refugees are needed on the programme. The Whitehall spending watchdog said tthat remains a risk to meeting the target.
David Simmonds, the chairman of the Local Government Association’s asylum, refugee and migration task group, said: The focus must now be on ensuring families are well supported. Councils are and will be helping some of the most vulnerable families fleeing Syria who will need access to ongoing support from local services to cope with injuries, disabilities and to recover from the severe trauma they have experienced.
A government spokesperson said work would continue to turn the pledges of 20,000 places into resettled people: This is a humanitarian programme and the level of funding enables local authorities to provide vulnerable refugees with a safe environment and the chance to rebuild their lives.
We ask local authorities to consider carefully whether they have the necessary infrastructure and support networks before a resettlement occurs and we will only resettle individuals to a particular area once we’ve ensured these arrangements, including school places and housing are in place, they added.
News Source TheGuardianNews