Author : Maurice Wren
For many, the images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi brought home the plight of refugees forced to make treacherous journeys while seeking safety in Europe.
The boy tragically drowned as his family attempted to reach the Greek island of Kos from Turkey in September 2015.
Public pressure, an outpouring of compassion and outrage at the inaction from government led then prime minister David Cameron to making a new commitment in welcoming 20,000 refugees affected by the conflict in Syria.
But as we approach the anniversary of the pledge, the government has made no further commitment on resettlement beyond 2020.
New figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show how the government is on track to meet the pledge, with over 12,000 refugees welcomed through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) since its expansion in 2015.
Worldwide, the number of refugees who departed for safe countries in 2017 also fell by nearly half (48%). The government can quite rightly be proud of what’s been achieved with resettlement in our country. The UK has stepped up to become one of the world’s leaders on the issue, but we now urgently need a new vision for the future of resettlement before the unthinkable happens and everything that has been achieved is lost in uncertainty, putting future schemes at risk.
While the refugee crisis no longer commands as many headlines, the need remains great with millions of people displaced globally, their lives torn apart by conflict and persecution.
As organisations that support families arriving through these schemes, we see its truly transformative impact every day on people who have survived unimaginably difficult situations and are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety.
We urge the government to build on this great success by establishing an ambitious and well-resourced resettlement programme from 2020 that responds effectively to global conflicts. Refugee Action and the Refugee Council are jointly backing the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) call for resettlement in the UK to be expanded in order to welcome at least 10,000 people affected by global conflicts and persecution each year.
We strongly believe that this is the scale of the contribution the UK could and should be making. The Syrian programme has huge public support. It’s been wonderful to see communities and local authorities across the country choosing to welcome refugees to their areas. The success shows that we can do more. There is a chance now to continue growing expertise and best practice around providing resettlement, which must not be lost. Families who have lost everything are given hope for the future. People like Alaa, 22, who arrived through the VPRS with his parents and sister last April.
He is currently focused on studying and finding work. ‘I have very high ambitions,’ he says.
‘There is a lot that I want to do with my life. We have to find ways to rebuild our lives here. We need to integrate;
we need to meet people and interact with them.’
The government should seize this opportunity through one consolidated programme, which gives refugees equal support to rebuild their lives regardless of which emergency they’ve been forced to flee.