Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s visit to a refugee settlement on the Syrian-Lebanese border in February was a profound and important step in the resettlement and protection of the most vulnerable victims of the Syrian Civil War. As the Home Office seeks to move away from the hostile environment policy in the wake of the Windrush Scandal, will the new Home Secretary publicly re-commit to his department’s pledge to house 20,000 of the most vulnerable victims of the Syrian refugee crisis by 2020 and beyond?
Rudd’s trip was an ongoing part of the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), setup by David Cameron in 2014, which set out the aim to re-house 20,000 vulnerable refugees by 2020.The Scheme has won praise from UNICEF, UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Dipti Pardeshi, IOM UK Chief of Mission, stated that:“the generosity and welcome shown by the UK government and the British people to those resettled is commendable”. So far, 10,500 of the most vulnerable refugees have been granted safety and security in the UK, the largest number of any EU country. Over 7000 of those are vulnerable Syrian refugees, of whom half are children. The Scheme is well on track to reach, if not exceed, its target of 20,000 by 2020.
The VPRS scheme should be a source of pride for British people, a reminder that the UK is a welcoming sanctuary to those with nowhere else to go, offering a safe and legal home to the most vulnerable refugees of the Syrian crisis while preventing countless needless deaths from illegal migrant crossings. The Scheme is part of the UK’s outstanding legacy of aid towards the Syrian refugee crisis- having already committed £2.46bn to projects since 2012, the UK is one of the largest global donors.
Speaking in Qab Elias, an informal tented settlement on the Syrian-Lebanese border, Ruddhad affirmed her commitment that, by 2020, 20,000 of the most vulnerable victims of the Syrian refugee crisis would be granted UK asylum:“20,000 is definitely achievable by 2020, and I hope that we may get there earlier than that,” she said. Rudd met with dozens of refugee families in the settlement,including one family preparing to be rehoused in the UK, a heartfelt reminder of the tangible human impact of the UK’s resettlement scheme. The visit was a gesture of sympathy and support for the victims of the Syrian civil war and a symbol of the UK’s commitment to defend and protect the most vulnerable.
Working with the UNHCR, UNICEF and IOM, the UK couldshelter thousands more Syrian refugees,further offering sanctuary to survivors of violence and torture, those who require urgent medical attention, as well as women and children at risk.
That said, the VPRS is not without its flaws. With 2020, a mere 18 months away, the programme presently has no plan about what happens next, and the process of resettlement in the UK is often haphazard and arbitrary.The scheme, however, does provide hope and safety to thousands of the people, and as such confirming the UK’s continued commitment to it should be one of Sajid Javid, the new Home Secretary’s highest priorities.
The Home Office has not always had a clean conscience in its treatment of migrants and vulnerable people. The Windrush scandal has uncovered the tragic treatment of some foreign migrants. Evidence of steps to delegitimise UK citizens are a stark reminder that Home Office policy has not always been fair and kind to those in need.
The wider issue of Home Office disengagement with vulnerable migrants; the hostile environment policy, is the most pressing. The policy looks to isolate, marginalise and criminalise ’illegal’migrants, however, it has had a devastating effect on legal migrants too, tearing families apart and wrongly detaining innocent migrants.
Overly broad policies disproportionately affect the vulnerable and those too weak to stand up for themselves. Colin Yeo, an immigration and asylum Barrister, acknowledges that an illegal underclass is emerging, made up of those too scared to seek medical help and as a consequence open to economic and social exploitation.
It is time for the hostile environment policy to end. Sajid Javid’s disownment of the hostile environment policy is to be welcomed, but the new Home Secretary must now embrace concrete policies of openness and tolerance towards vulnerable refugees. The VPRS is the best existing example of a compassionate and meaningful Home Office policy. Under the new stewardship of Sajid Javid, I hope the Home Office will continue its support and I hope that the Home Secretary will publicly re-commit to its the goal to reaffirm its position as a world leader in humanitarian aid and support.