A recent analysis has revealed the impact that the Covid pandemic has had on the UK’s resettlement scheme.
The UK had aimed to offer 5,000 refugees a home in 2020-21 but with resettlement temporarily paused after the outbreak of the pandemic, the charity Refugee Action says just a fraction of that number will be given sanctuary by the end of March.
Home Office figures have shown that just 733 refugees were welcomed to the UK between January and March last year, before settlements were halted, already a drop of 38% on the 1,184 rehomed in the same period in 2019.
The majority of UK councils did not see any arrivals during that time. With the most recent figures revealing no refugees found a new home in the UK between March and September, that means overall settlements to that point in 2020 were down by 81% compared to 2019.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there were 26.3 million refugees worldwide fleeing famine, persecution and war as of mid 2020.
The UK arm of the UNHCR says it is concerned about the low numbers of recent arrivals to the country.
The government had planned to launch a new global resettlement scheme in 2020 – the UK Resettlement Scheme – which brought together three existing resettlement programmes.
These were the UK’s Vulnerable Person (VPRS) and the Child Resettlement Scheme (VCRS) which largely helped people fleeing conflict in Syria, and the Gateway Protection Programme, which welcomed people from other parts of the world.
It aimed to resettle 5,000 refugees within 2020-21, its first year.
But with the current schemes halted during the pandemic – resuming only in November – and no new launch date for the UKRS, the UN has urged the UK to act now to speed up settlements.
Matthew Saltmarsh, senior external relations officer at UNHCR UK, said: “While we recognise the challenges that Covid is currently presenting to the UK, UNHCR is concerned about the delays in starting he new global resettlement scheme (UKRS) and the low number of recent arrivals”.
“UNHCR urges the UK to start its new resettlement programme as soon as possible to help alleviate further suffering among refugees facing the most acute hardships”.
Refugee Action says the UK must restart a long-term resettlement programme for refugees.
Stephen Hale, Chief executive, said: “This Government’s claim to support refugee resettlement is tragically not borne out by their actions”.
“They have agreed to welcome just 232 vulnerable people of the 5,000 promised sanctuary in 2020-21. Instead of starting new lives here, people are left in limbo, living in poverty and danger in refugee camps and near war zones”.
“The Home Secretary must now step up, honour its pledge and restart a long-term programme to enable refugees to rebuild their lives safely in he UK”.
Chris Philp, Immigration minister, would not state when the new scheme will start, nor if the 5,000 target will be met.
He said: “Like many countries, we had to temporarily pause resettlement during the pandemic but have now resumed resettlement. We will continue to honour our commitment to those who have been invited to the UK and we will roll out a new global resettlement scheme in future, along with a new firm and fair asylum system, which will welcome people through safe and legal routes”.