MPs warn of ‘two-tier’ system for council support of refugees

A ‘two-tier’ system is developing between local authorities who provide support for asylum seekers and those who do not, the Home Affairs Select Committee has said.

Following public outcry at the pictures of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey after a boat he was travelling on capsized, the UK government committed to expanding the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme to take 20,000 refugees by 2020.

However, the committee’s report into the UK’s response to the migration crisis shows that just 71 local authorities have accepted any refugees under the scheme.

The individual authority which has taken the greatest amount is Coventry, which has accepted 105.

The report said that although the country has successfully met the target of accommodating 1,000 refugees by December 2015, more must be done to ensure it fulfils the goals of the scheme.

“There is now a two-tier system among local authorities, with some providing support to Syrian refugees and others not doing so,” the report said.

“A similar two-tier system applies in the level of support local authorities provide for other asylum-seekers. The government needs to be much more proactive in encouraging a fair distribution of asylum seekers throughout the country and ministers should take the lead on this, by encouraging their own local authorities to take their fair share of refugees.”

The report follows warnings last year from Joe Anderson, mayor of Liverpool, of a system of ‘asylum apartheid’ between poor northern cities and rich southern ones. 

However, the LGA challenged the committee’s claims. Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s asylum, refugee and migration task group, said: “This report is out of date. We are confident that there will be sufficient places that will support the government's pledge to resettle 20,000 people by 2020 and the focus must now be on ensuring families are matched to the right placements and that they arrive safely and are well supported.”

Another report from the committee, published in March, also warned that disproportionate amounts of asylum seekers are being placed with less well-off authorities.

In addition, it criticised the Home Office for offering insufficient oversight of the companies it has contracted to provide accommodation for asylum seekers.

Paul Hook, head of campaigns at charity Refugee Action, said: “The UK can and must go further to welcome more refugees to Britain and ensure those refugees are properly supported to rebuild their lives once they’re here.

“Whilst Britain’s relationship with its European neighbours is at a crossroads, our role in the world as a country with compassion and respect for those that need our help has not changed.”

A Home Office spokesperson said its priority is to offer humanitarian support to those most in need while maintaining the security of our borders.

“We have already provided refuge for more than 1,800 Syrian refugees through our Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. We are committed to resettling 20,000 refugees by the end of this Parliament and we are on track to deliver,” they added. “Through the Immigration Act 2016 we have also made clear our commitment to bringing very vulnerable children from Europe. 

“At the same time we continue to work tirelessly to maintain the security of our border, intercepting attempts to enter the UK illegally and targeting the callous gangs that profit from people smuggling.

“We will respond to the committee's recommendations in due course.”

(Image c. Kerstin Joensson from AP Photo)

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