Groups of Syrian refugees arrived in the UK yesterday, the first since David Cameron pledged to help 20,000 of those who have fled their war-torn country for Middle East camps. We don’t know who they are, where they are or even how many there are. Now it has come to light that councils may not be receiving funding to resettle the migrants beyond one year.
Such is the government secrecy around the programme we may well never know much at all except for one thing; UK tax payers will foot the bill and local councils are already protesting about the cost of the re-settlement scheme.
The Home Office would only confirm that “a number of people” had arrived as part of the vulnerable persons intake for Syrian refugees, the vast majority of whom will be from refugee camps in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Tuesday’s refugees represent the first since last week’s announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron that the UK would take up to 20,000 people over a five year period.
According to the Times, a government spokesman refused to say where in the country the new arrivals would live, but they are believed to be families or individuals who have been expected for some time as part of an earlier scheme.
Local councils are preventing many more from travelling pending the outcome of negotiations with the Home Office over funding. Mr Cameron initially said that funding would be diverted from the overseas aid budget for a year to underwrite the scheme, but as yet councils are expected to provide all housing, health and education services for up to five years. The inclusion of families with children ensures the final cost could be much larger again.
David Simmonds, chairman of the Conservative-controlled Local Government Association’s asylum, migration and refugee task force, confirmed that councils were now offering to help but were continuing to press the government for details.
He said:“We need to know who is arriving and when in order to ensure that we have the right homes, school places and other support that may be required. There are a number of issues that need to be urgently resolved, in particular the need for a firm commitment that councils resettling refugees will receive full financial support, in order that it is not seen later as an unfair burden on communities that open their doors.”
Mr Simmonds said that councils had not been given assurances that they would receive more than a year’s funding. “I have been speaking to Richard Harrington, the minister in charge of the refugee process, but there are some sticky questions round the issue of funding,” he said.
“We have been offered one year so far, but under OECD rules we cannot get more than one year. We are looking to see if we can get round that.”
Mr Simmonds said that it was vital for councils to know how severely injured the refugees were. “From the profiles we have seen from the UNHCR they are more injured than we imagined,” he said. “Many will need a lot of health and social care.”
Britain is a significant contributor to global aid. Earlier this year, it became the first country in the G7 to honour its commitment to ringfencing 0.7 per cent of gross national income for foreign aid.
That means that 7p of every £10 raised from taxpayers is spent on overseas development. In 2013, this amounted to £11.4bn. Provisional figures for 2014 suggest the figure rose to £11.8bn last year and is set to rise again in 2015.