In our role as the Strategic Migration Partnership for Scotland, COSLA is coordinating refugee resettlement efforts between all 32 Scottish local authorities, the UK Government’s Resettlement, Asylum Support and Integration, the Scottish Government and other key partners across the public and third sector. We are also seeking to ensure that lessons learned and experiences from resettlement schemes can influence wider refugee integration work undertaken through the New Scots strategy.
Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS)
In September 2015, both the Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister made commitments to helping those affected and displaced by the civil war in Syria, launching the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. The Prime Minister committed to resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK and to providing financial aid in the region.
By November 2017, 2000 Syrian refugees arrived in Scotland fulfilling First Minister’s commitment to resettle 10% of the total number of refugees arriving to the UK as a hole.
Since 2015, refugees continued to arrive and settle in Scotland and by early 2020 there were over 3000 individuals in all 32 of Scotland’s local authority areas. Local councils, and Scotland’s communities, have been rightly commended for their efforts and enthusiasm in welcoming and accepting those displaced and resettled by the crisis. Politicians from all 32 councils confirmed that Local Government remains commitment to support the UK’s role in resettling those who have to flee from prosecution in their country of origin and agreed to keep the voluntary scheme open to new arrivals beyond the end of the current scheme.
Vulnerable Children's Resettlement Scheme (VCRS)
Scotland’s local authorities also support the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme to resettle children who are at risk, and their families, in the Middle East and North Africa. In August 2016, Scottish local authorities committed to taking 300 individuals which is 10% of the UK total target.
Resettlement and COVID-19 pandemic
Resettlement arrivals to the UK had been suspended in March 2020 as result of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. This delayed completion of the current resettlement schemes (SVPRS and VCRS) and put in question commencement of a new UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS). In November 2020 the UK Government announced restarting of resettlement arrivals with the aim to complete the commitment to resettle 20 000 individuals from Syria.
The plans for continuous resettlement activity after the commitment under SVPRS had been met are yet to be confirmed. Scottish Local authorities are increasingly concerned with the prolonged suspension of resettlement arrivals and lack of clarity around the future of resettlement, and they are keen to continue to provide safety and a new home for some of the most vulnerable individuals seeking humanitarian protection.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are people selected to come to the UK?
Refugee resettlement programme seek to resettle the most vulnerable adults and children who have fled the violence in their home country. Only 1% of the worlds displaced peoples are eligible for resettlement according to vulnerability criteria set by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) refers refugees to the UK Government for relocation through the resettlement programmes. The people who are selected by UNHCR are some of the most vulnerable refugees in the MENA (Middle- East and North Africa) region and fall under one or more of the following vulnerability criteria: women, children and young people at risk; people in severe need of medical care; survivors of torture and violence; refugees with legal and/or physical protection needs; refugees with medical needs or disabilities; persons at risk due to their sexual orientation or gender identity; and refugees with family links in resettlement countries.
The UNHCR carry out a series of checks which includes a robust identification process before referring someone to the UK Scheme. Referrals are then further screened and considered by the Home Office for suitability for entry to the UK. The Home Office check that they meet eligibility criteria and carry out medical and security checks. It retains the right to reject cases on the basis of security risk, war crimes or other grounds. By the time a UNHCR referred refugee arrives in the UK they have undergone a thorough two stage vetting process to ensure the Government knows who is entering the country. This includes the taking of biometrics, documentary evidence and interviews. Security is also regarded as a continual process that does not stop as soon as a refugee arrives in the UK.
Do the refugees have any choice about coming to Scotland?
Although people have a choice as to whether they wish to be resettled in the UK but they do not have any choice as to where in the UK (including Scotland) they will be placed. It is made clear to refugees before they arrive that they could be resettled anywhere in the UK as part of this programme. it is also made clear that they will be allocated accommodation of the same standard as that available to UK residents.
Part of the resettlement process is to screen for pre- existing family connections in the UK and people can express that they wish to be resettled close to their family member. This however cannot be guaranteed.
In the process people are also asked about their preference to be allocated in rural or urban area to maximise their potential of integration and settlement in the UK.
Do they get receive orientation about life in the UK before they come?
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a worldwide inter-governmental organisation, is contracted by the UK Government to work with the families and individuals who have been selected under the Resettlement Programme. The refugees are given some understanding about the UK in general during cultural orientation sessions that IOM provide. In addition, they are given some information on the area they are being sent to provided by the Local Authority in question, which is expanded upon in more detailed orientation work carried out by Local Authorities once the refugees have arrived in Scotland.
How is the Programme funded?
The Home Office provides per capita funding to Local Authorities for the five years for which the new arrivals have been granted humanitarian or refugee protection in the UK. This decreases in each subsequent year as the individuals become more integrated. There is also an 'extreme cases' fund which will assist with high cost cases.
What are the refugees entitled to?
All those entering the UK under the Resettlement Programme have been granted 5 years' leave to remain in the UK. They are entitled access to all statutory health, care and education services as if they were UK residents during this time. They are also entitled to work and claim benefits, including child benefit, tax credit, Universal Credit, etc. At the end of the 5 years they can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
How are refugees allocated to Local Authorities?
All Local Authorities in Scotland are supportive of the Resettlement Programme. CoSLA performs a coordination role between Scottish local authorities and the Home Office to identify suitable resettlement locations with available housing and services that are matched to individuals' needs.
What if the refugees want to move once they have arrived?
It is expected that in most cases, refugees will want to stay in the area of the UK in which they have been resettled. However, they are free to move elsewhere in the UK if they choose. If they do wish to move to another part of the UK following their initial arrival and leave the area in which they have been resettled, they will no longer be entitled to the accommodation that had been allocated, and they will no longer have dediated resettlement support in the Local Authority in which they were first placed. The refugees will be responsible for making their own arrangements for registering with the relevant statutory bodies in their new area, including schools, medical services, benefits, etc. The Local Authority where the refugees were initially placed is under no obligation to provide any assistance to help them move, although the new Local Authority should be informed that the refugee is planning to move to that area.
What about unaccompanied or orphaned children?
Under the SVPRS, unaccompanied children are not eligible for resettlement. Unaccompanied children may be eligible, however, under the Vulnerable Children's Resettlement Scheme and there are other separate measures to resettle unaccompanied children in the UK.
I would like to help - what should I do?
It is appreciated that many Scottish people want to reach out and help in the crisis. You should check your local authority's website as there may be information about how you can help there, or you can get in touch with them and ask for the Syrian Resettlement Programme Lead Officer.
The best thing that anyone can do is make the new arrivals feel welcome and accepted within their communities.