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Commons Library briefing: Syrian refugees and the UK response

Published Friday, June 10, 2016

The Government is working to resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK by the end of this Parliament, under its Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement scheme. It has also recently agreed to provide some resettlement places to vulnerable children currently in the Middle East and North Africa, and for some unaccompanied children already in Europe (including Syrian nationals).

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As the Syrian crisis gets ever deeper, there is ongoing pressure for the UK to accept more Syrian refugees. UNHCR is calling on the international community to provide safe and legal routes for Syrian refugees, including resettlement places for the most vulnerable.

The UK’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme

At the start of the Syrian crisis, the then Government's policy was to be generous with humanitarian aid to Syria's neighbours rather than to accept Syrian refugees for resettlement in the UK. However, in early 2014 it decided to establish a ‘Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Programme’ in order to provide a route for selected Syrian refugees to come to the UK.

The scheme first prioritised victims of sexual violence and torture, and the elderly and disabled. Several hundred refugees were expected to arrive in the UK through the scheme over three years, although there was no fixed quota.

The scheme was significantly extended in September 2015. The UK is now planning to resettle up to 20,000 refugees from the Syrian region over the next five years. The Government is working with local authorities and the voluntary sector to implement the scheme. It is also developing plans for a ‘community sponsorship’ scheme for Syrian refugees.

The resettled refugees are given five years’ Humanitarian Protection status, with permission to work and access public funds. Official statistics show that 1,602 people had been resettled in the UK under the scheme by the end of March 2016.

Other new resettlement schemes

In addition to the above, the Government has also recently announced plans to provide resettlement for up to 3,000 vulnerable children (and family members) from conflict situations in the Middle East and North Africa region, and for an unspecified number of unaccompanied refugee children currently in Europe. Neither of these schemes would be limited to Syrian nationals.

Syrian asylum claims

It is possible for Syrians to claim asylum upon arrival or after-entry to the UK. Syrian nationals were the sixth-largest group of asylum applicants in the year ending March 2016 (2,539 main applicants). 87% of initial asylum decisions in Syrian cases gave permission to remain in the UK. Statistics on asylum, including statistics on the Syrian refugee crisis, are available in the Library briefing, Asylum Statistics.

UK aid to Syria

The UK Government continues to commit a significant amount of international aid to assistance programmes in the regions neighbouring Syria, arguing that this is preferable to encouraging Syrian refugees to make dangerous journeys to Europe. The UK has committed over £2.3 billion to helping refugees in Syria and the region, making it the second largest bilateral donor to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Commons Briefing papers SN06805

Authors: Melanie Gower; Ben Politowski

Topics: Asylum, International development, Middle East

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