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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 fleeing Syrians for resettlement in the UK. However, in early 2014 it established the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme (VPRP) in order to provide a route for selected Syrians to come to the UK.

The VPRP first prioritised the elderly, the disabled and victims of sexual violence and torture. There was no fixed quota, but the Government announced it expected several hundred Syrians to arrive in the UK over three years. The VPRP was significantly extended in September 2015 – it now plans to resettle up to 20,000 people from the Syrian region over the next five years. The Government is working with local authorities and the voluntary sector to implement the programme. To assist Syrians’ integration into UK society a ‘community sponsorship’ scheme was launched in July 2016.

Resettled Syrians were first given ‘humanitarian protection’ status for a period of five years, with permission to work and access public funds. However on 22 March 2017 the Home Secretary announced that from 1 July 2017 all those admitted to the UK under the VPRP would be granted refugee status. The Government acknowledged that humanitarian protection status does not carry the same entitlements as refugee status, such as swifter access to student support for those in higher education and the internationally recognised refugee travel document.

According to the latest Immigration Statistics, 5,453 Syrians were resettled to the UK under the VPRP in the year ending March 2017.

Other new resettlement schemes

In addition to the VPRP, the Government committed itself to providing resettlement for up to 3,000 vulnerable children (and family members) from conflict situations in the Middle East and North Africa region. A further scheme was introduced by section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (known as ‘the Dubs amendment’), which required the Government to relocate and support an unspecified number of unaccompanied refugee children currently in Europe. Neither of these schemes are limited to Syrian nationals.

On 8 February 2017 the Government announced the number of unaccompanied children to be relocated under section 67 will be capped at 350. The decision prompted criticism from Lord Dubs, opposition parties and campaigners. It was reversed two months later, with Home Office ministers blaming an ‘administrative error’ for their not taking up local authorities’ offers to resettle a further 130 children.

Syrian asylum claims

It is also possible for Syrians to claim asylum upon arrival or after-entry to the UK. Separate to those granted humanitarian protection under the VPRP, there were 1,507 grants of asylum (or an alternative form of protection) to Syrian applicants at intial decision in the year ending March 2017. 86% of intial asylum decisions in Syrian cases gave permission to remain in the UK. This is the highest rate of recognition amongst the top ten nationalities applying for asylum in that year.

UK aid to Syria

The Government continues to commit a significant amount of international aid to assistance programmes in the regions neighbouring Syria. It takes the view that this is preferable to encouraging Syrian refugees to make dangerous journeys to Europe. The UK has committed over £2.46 billion to helping refugees in Syria and the region, making it the second largest donor to the Syrian refugee crisis since the start of the crisis in 2012.

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