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13.01.17

PAC: Councils still need more clarity in settling Syrian refugees

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned that the government faces a “significant challenge” in hitting its pledge to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK by 2020, largely echoing the National Audit Office’s report from last September.

While the PAC has praised local and national government for their work to date, a new report released by the committee says that government should be clearer with authorities around the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme in order to ensure its long-term success.

The committee noted that councils and refugees alike remain unsure what refugees are entitled to under the programme and how it should be funded, particularly vulnerable refugees who are survivors of torture or violence who may need specialist support such as mental health treatment.

“The programme can only succeed and deliver value for money long-term if the government is properly able to evaluate its success and adjust its provisions accordingly,” said the chair of the PAC, Meg Hillier MP.

“It must set out detailed plans for this now or risk failing those refugees it is intended to support, as well as undermining public perceptions of the programme’s benefits.”

The Home Select Committee warned last summer of a ‘two-tier’ scheme between councils who had pledged to take refugees and those who had not, with many local authorities still failing to offer places. However, in September the Home Office announced that all 20,000 places had been found.

The PAC has advised the Home Office to communicate the details of the programme fully to refugees by April, along with reviewing its provisions for teaching English to refugees and how victims of torture are identified and supported.

Refugees currently receive four hours of English classes a week during this first year in the UK, and last September the government pledged an extra £10m of funding to offer an extra six hours a week for the first three to six months.

“Learning English is essential for refugees to be able to integrate into their communities and communicate with service providers, such as doctors and jobcentre staff,” the report concluded on this point.

“We welcome the increased focus on learning English … but it is not clear whether this will be enough to ensure refugees are properly integrated into their communities and able to become economically active in the UK.”

In July 2016, a new system of community sponsorship was introduced to the scheme where individuals agreed to provide initial support to refugees. However, the PAC argued that it is “not yet clear how it will complement, rather than compete with, the local authority resettlement route”.

The committee noted important differences in support and services between the two routes, with sponsors required to provide refugees with less money and support than local authorities and for a shorter amount of time than councils’ current five-year requirement.

The Home Office has been asked to write to the PAC within six months to provide an update on how community sponsorships are working for refugees.

Other recommendations made to the Home Office include setting out an effective framework for evaluating the success of the programme using specifically measured indicators, such as refugees’ progress with English and in finding employment.

Responding to the report, Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s asylum, migration and refugee task group, said that councils continue to work hard in supporting the Syrian resettlement scheme.

“We are confident that there will be sufficient pledges to support the government’s aim to resettle 20,000 people by 2020, and the LGA, regional partnerships and authorities will continue to share learning on how best to settle families in their new communities,” he said.

(Image c. AP Photo Kerstin Joensson)

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