LONDON: The British government is under pressure from the UN to resettle a specific number of Syrian refugees after it scrapped a previously pledged target.
The Home Office had run the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), which committed Britain to welcoming 20,000 Syrian refugees between 2015 and 2020. The scheme ended in March this year.
But former Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced two years ago that a new “global resettlement scheme” would resettle some 5,000 refugees in the first year after the VPRS ended.
The Home Office has now scrapped this target, announcing that it will “maintain its long-term commitment to resettle refugees from around the globe” but without giving any indication of numbers or timings.
The statement instead committed the department to keeping resettlement numbers under review “guided by the capacity of local authorities, central government and community sponsor groups as the UK recovers from Covid.”
The UN has criticized the Home Office for dropping its numbered commitment, arguing that the new plans will complicate the resettlement process.
A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told The Independent: “Having clarity on the numbers of refugees that are arriving via resettlement now and in future years is important for managing the programme — for UNHCR as well as local authorities and partners, who need clarity to be able to retain skilled staff. It also helps manage refugees’ expectations.
“We hope that the UK will continue to welcome at least as many refugees as it did in the years before the pandemic — around 5,000 a year — as an important commitment to burden-sharing for what is an acute global problem being made more urgent by Covid.”
Britain paused refugee resettlement after the government ramped up measures to tackle the pandemic in March 2020.
It did not resume its refugee work until November, months after other Western countries had returned to working on their plans.
Just 353 refugees were resettled in Britain in the year to March 2021, a 93 percent drop from the last reporting period.
Immigration Minister Chris Philp said: “While the pandemic has meant that resettlement activity has been disrupted over the last year, no one should be in any doubt of our commitment to build upon our proud history of resettling refugees in need of protection.
“The numbers we resettle will be kept under review and we will be guided by the capacity of local authorities, central government and community sponsor groups as we recover from Covid to provide places and support refugees to integrate into their communities and thrive.”