The Government announced this week that it intends to restart the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) in the new year after pausing the programme in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The announcement comes after many months of pressure from NGOs, Local Authorities and Community Groups calling on the Home Office to resume resettlement as a matter of urgency.
The announcement falls short of what is urgently required as it only covers the completion of the VPRS programme, and makes no mention of any plans for future resettlement beyond the completion of VPRS.
At the end of March 2020, (the point at which the VPRS programme was paused) the UK had resettled 19,768 refugees under the VPRS against a target of 20,000. Given the intention to complete the VPRS programme, we can expect an additional 232 refugees will arrive in the UK between January and March 2021 as a result of the announcement.
In June 2019, the government announced that a new consolidated UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) would then replace VPRS and other existing resettlement programmes from April 2020. The new scheme would aim to resettle around 5,000 refugees each year. The roll out of UKRS has been delayed due to the pandemic and the government have yet to indicate when the new scheme will start, leaving local authorities and other key stakeholders in a position where they risk having to scale down their services.
A recent report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found that prior to the pandemic; the time refugees were already having to wait for over a year between being accepted onto the resettlement programme and arriving in the UK. The ongoing delay in setting a new start date for the UKRS is significantly adding to this, leaving hundreds of refugees living in limbo with prolonged uncertainty as to when they will be resettled to the UK.
In addition to the lack of clarity on plans to start the UKRS, the government have yet to set out a long term funding commitment for resettlement, leaving Local Authorities and other key stakeholders unable to plan long-term sustainable services to resettled refugees and at risk of having to scale back their existing operations.
Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:
“Whilst we welcome the announcement this week that the Government intend to resume the VPRS programme, it is incredibly disappointing that the announcement falls so short by failing to provide any level of assurance on the future of resettlement. The government urgently need to set out a plan to start the UK Resettlement Scheme, and fulfil their commitment to resettle 5,000 refugees under the new scheme. Failing to do so damages the UK’s global standing by depriving thousands of refugees of the life-changing opportunity resettlement provides”