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Syrian Refugees and the UK 246Syrian Refugees and the UK - House of Commons Briefing Paper

Acknowledgement: House of Commons Briefing Paper Number 06805, 25 January 2016 Melanie Gower & Hannah Cromarty

As the Syrian crisis gets ever deeper, there is ongoing pressure for the UK to accept more Syrian refugees. Over 13.5 million Syrians need help in the country, of whom 6.6 million are internally displaced. 4.3 million Syrians have fled abroad, mostly to neighbouring countries in the region.

UNHCR is calling on the international community to provide resettlement places for the most vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Up until 29 January 2014, the Government's policy was to be generous with humanitarian aid to Syria's neighbours rather than to accept recognised Syrian refugees for resettlement in the UK. However, the Government then 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. The Government initially expected that several hundred refugees would arrive in the UK through the scheme over three years, although there was no fixed quota.

On 7 September 2015, the Prime Minister announced a significant extension of the scheme. The UK is now planning to resettle up to 20,000 refugees from the Syrian region over the next five years. However, the Government does not intend to offer resettlement to refugees already in Europe, or to participate in the refugee relocation schemes being developed by the EU. It argues that it is better to take the most vulnerable refugees directly from the region. The Government is working out the logistics of the extended scheme with local authorities and the voluntary sector.

The resettled refugees are given five years’ Humanitarian Protection status, with permission to work and access public funds. Official statistics show that 252 people had been resettled in the UK under the scheme by the end of September 2015.  On 16 December 2015 the Prime Minister announced that the Government had met its commitment to resettle 1,000 Syrians in the UK before the end of 2015. 

It is also possible for Syrians to claim asylum upon arrival or after-entry to the UK. Syrian nationals were the fourth-largest group of asylum applicants in the year ending September 2015 (2,204 main applicants). 87% of initial asylum decisions in Syrian cases gave permission to remain in the UK.

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 £1.1 billion to helping refugees in Syria and the region, making it the second largest bilateral donor to the Syrian refugee crisis.

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