26 June 2015

On Friday 19 June at a speech at the GLOBSEC Forum in Slovakia, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a ‘modest expansion’ to the national resettlement scheme for particularly vulnerable people fleeing Syria.

The Vulnerable Person’s Relocation scheme was set up in January 2014 with the aim of resettling around 500 Syrian nationals to the UK by 2017. While being separate, it is operated in conjunction with UNHCR’s Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme, helping the UK government to identify individuals who are most vulnerable and cannot be adequately protected in the region.

To date, 187 people have been resettled via this scheme, with the first group of Syrians arriving in March 2014. ‘Several hundred’ more are thought to be accepted. Cameron’s announcement came the day after UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report was published, stating that there are 3.88 million people displaced by the Syrian conflict.

The UK has faced criticism for the relatively low numbers resettled compared to the rest of the international community, including by a coalition of 25 major charities, and British celebrities.

The Head of Advocacy at ECRE member, the British Refugee Council, welcomed the news as it will ‘transform people’s lives’ but called on the Government to offer a safe haven to ‘thousands, not hundreds, of refugees from Syria who desperately need it’ as this commitment ‘still pales in comparison to pledges made by other European countries’.

Similarly, Zoe Gardner of ECRE member Asylum Aid, comments that: “Every individual life saved through resettlement should be celebrated, and so we are pleased to hear that perhaps a few hundred more of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees will now be offered a chance at a new life in safety in the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. However, the numbers that the UK is proposing, adding up to fewer than a thousand resettlement places in total, are pale in comparison to the scale of displacement from Syria. The UK should take pride in our ability to help and should be taking the lead in the European resettlement response, rather than trailing behind our neighbours. We certainly have the capacity to match other European countries’ resettlement pledges, such as Germany’s, what is lacking is the political will.”

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 26 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.