The world is facing the greatest global refugee crisis since the Second World War, with nearly 5 million people being displaced from Syria alone.
Following a campaign led by the Refugee Council and considerable public pressure, the Government announced in January 2014 that it would set up a special resettlement scheme to help Syrian refugees. Only just over 200 refugees were resettled in the first 18 months of the operation. In September 2015, however, the Prime Minister announced the scheme would be significantly expanded to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020. The Welsh government committed to taking 1,600 Syrian refugees, a proportionate share of Cameron’s promised 20,000 over five years.
All local authorities in Wales will be supporting the resettlement of refugees and since December, Ceredigion, Torfaen, Neath Port Talbot and Caerphilly have welcomed about 50 refugees out of the 1,000 who have so far been resettled across Britain.
Powys County Council has announced that it would be accommodating approximately 12 Syrian families in Ystradgynlais and Newtown and initially stated that 6 families would be resettled in Ystradgynlais by the end of March 2016. No refugees have yet been resettled in Powys.
The commitment to resettle refugees is a start, but the crisis is happening now and resettlement should not be delayed. Refugees should find safety as soon as possible.
Our Chair, Sean O’Donoghue, wrote to Powys County Council to express concern and to request an explanation for the delays taking place, which are especially apparent considering that Ceredigion, Torfaen, Neath Port Talbot and Caerphilly have all welcomed refugees since December.
The Leader of Powys County Council, Mr Barry Thomas responded with the informative email below:
Dear Mr O’Donoghue,
I write in response to your e-mail of the 9th April, in which you expressed concerns about the timescale of the council in accommodating Syrian refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Relocation Scheme.
There are two primary reasons why we have not been able to achieve our objective of accommodating the first Syrian families in Ystradgynlais by the end of March 2016.
The first reason is the lack of suitable housing. I’m advised that when Simon Inkson came and briefed your group last year he advised you that we intended to accommodate the families in social housing. However, between January and March we had no three bedroom homes in Ystradgynlais become vacant. Landlords are unable to determine the time at which vacancies occur in the social housing stock and it is unfortunate that we have had no vacancies in this period. We have therefore sought and are in the process of securing accommodation in the private rented sector, which will become available over the next two months, after works to bring them up to our required standards are completed. We have also received notice recently on two 3 bedroom council properties, but unfortunately Dyfed Powys Police after interrogating their intelligence systems, have advised against using one of the properties to accommodate Syrian refugees.
The second is the wish of the Home Office and the Welsh Government for local authorities to work more regionally in supporting Syrian refugees, this includes flights arriving in Cardiff, rather than authorities having to transport refugees from further afield. We were advised a week or so ago by the Home Office that the first flight into Cardiff will arrive late June or early July and that is the date that we’re planning for.
You will be interested to know that other elements of the package are already in place. We have appointed an Integration Support Provider (EYST) and an ESOL provider (WEA/YMCA Community College Cymru) and the Panel (which includes Housing, Childrens Services, Adult Services, Health and Education) will be meeting in the coming weeks to identify the families who will be accommodated in Powys. We are currently working with EYST to provide key frontline professionals with awareness raising training and on what to expect from their experience of working with Syrian refugees in Swansea, and we will arrange them to provide similar training in schools for staff and students. You are no doubt aware that we have been working with PAVO to galvanise community support in the Ystradgynlais area and EYST will work with the community to identify ways in which they can provide support for the families who arrive in July. We hope to have 6 families in Ystradgynlais by the end of the summer and we will plan for the arrival of Syrian families in Newtown for the autumn of 2016.
So rather than intentionally delaying the arrival of Syrian refugees, who we too are keen to welcome, we have used the delay caused by circumstances which are beyond our control, to ensure that when the first families arrive in July, we are well prepared for their arrival and they feel welcomed and well supported to re-establish their lives in a foreign land.
The UK’s resettlement scheme prioritises the most vulnerable: women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence amongst others. The people in question are in desperate need of assistance and we urge the council to ensure that no further delays take place.
References and further information:
- The Refugee Council: Refugee resettlement: the facts
- Powys County Council: Refugees in Powys
- The Guardian: Welsh citizens call for their country to resettle more Syrian refugees
- Home Office: Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Programme – Guidance for local authorities and partners