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UK suspends admission of disabled child refugees

Less than six months since it was meant to begin, the UK’s resettlement scheme for vulnerable child refugees was suspended. This scheme brings in vulnerable children, including those with complex disabilities, who are refugees but who have not made it to Europe. they are in camps beyond its borders.                                                            Image: Reuters

The Home Office has been refusing to consider applications from people with disabilities since the beginning of January, because it says it cannot cope with their needs.

The Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme, announced last April with a view to starting lats October 1st, is supposed to re-home 3,000 children with their families from countries including Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq, is not accepting young people with complex needs, including disabilities and learning difficulties. The UN Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the Home Office had requested it “temporarily limit” requests from people with mobility problems and learning disabilities because there was not “suitable reception capacity” for them. It is understood that no end date to the suspension has yet been set.

A Home Office spokesperson said it was wrong that all refugees with mobility or educational needs were being denied sanctuary. But the spokeperson added that after discussion with the UNHCR, the Home Office had temporarily paused new referrals of some of the “most complex cases” to its Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme.

Shantha Barriga, director of Human Rights Watch’s disability rights division, said: “People with disabilities endure unimaginable hardship during conflict, and many faced huge hurdles in escaping the violence. That the UK now says it’s not prepared to accept refugees with disabilities is unthinkable.”

Refugee crisis, facts and figures

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), by the end of 2015 over 65.3 million people had been forced to leave their homes. Some 21.3 million people were refugees and 2.3 million people were seeking asylum. There are over 90,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. By the end of 2016 the UK had resettled less than 100 of them. 

Over half of the world’s refugees come from three countries – Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Most are hosted by developing countries:  Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon have the most. Turkey hosts 2.7 million refugees. Lebanon, a country the size of Wales, and Pakistan each now host well over a million refugees.

What is refugee resettlement?

Refugee resettlement involves the selection and transfer of refugees – by the UNHCR – from a country in which they have sought protection – usually somewhere with a large number of refugees in camps or urban settings –  to a third country which has agreed to admit them as refugees and where they can rebuild their lives.

 Many have health needs that cannot be met in the country where they are living. The UN estimate that 24% are survivors of violence and torture.

According to the UNHCR the USA, followed by Canada and Australia, resettled the most refugees during 2015. Europe generally accepts very few refugees for resettlement.

The UK has several refugee resettlement programmes.

The Gateway Protection Programme

This is the UK’s longstanding (since 2oo4) contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) global resettlement programme. Candidates for resettlement to the UK have been classified by UNHCR field offices as refugees and selected on the basis that they have pressing humanitarian or security needs, are not able to return to their countries of origin and cannot integrate locally.

The Home Office then makes the decision on who to accept under the UK programme, currently set at 750 people per year.

Refugees resettled through this programme arrive with indefinite leave to remain.

The UK’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme

At the start of the Syrian crisis, David Cameron’s Government’s policy was to offer  humanitarian aid to Syria’s neighbours rather than to accept Syrian refugees.

Following considerable public pressure, the Government announced in January 2014 that it would set up the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme (VPRP) to provide a route for selected Syrian refugees to come here.There was no fixed quota, but the Government announced it expected several hundred refugees to arrive in the UK over three years. In September 2015, the Prime Minister announced the scheme would be significantly expanded to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020.

As of September 2016 a total of 4,414 people had been granted humanitarian protection under the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme (VPRP) since its launch.

Syrian refugees arriving through the Government’s Vulnerable Person’s Relocation Scheme are granted five years’ Humanitarian Protection.

Dubs amendment

A further scheme was introduced by section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (known as ‘the Dubs amendment’), which required the Government to relocate and support an unspecified number of unaccompanied refugee children currently in Europe. This scheme is not limited to Syrian nationals. It was intended to admit 3000 unaccompanied children.

On 8 February 2017 the Government announced the number of unaccompanied children to be relocated under section 67 will be capped at 350. The decision prompted criticism from Lord Dubs and campaigners.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, defended the Dubs closure, but faced criticism for saying that the scheme would “incentivise” children to travel to Europe.

The government claimed that this was to prevent trafficking, although given  the number of child refugees already in Europe (90,000) it seems hard to believe that the loss of Dubs will make any meaningful difference.

Vulnerable children resettlement scheme

In addition to the VPRP and the Dubs amendment, the Government committed itself to providing resettlement for up to 3,000 vulnerable children (and family members) from conflict situations in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).

The scheme is open to refugees of all nationalities, but it excludes those who have already reached Europe.

The UK asked the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to identify  ‘children at risk’ – including unaccompanied children and those at risk of forced marriage – currently in the Middle East and other conflict zones.

On Thursday 21 April 2016 the government announced the scheme. It was expected to start in October 2016

child-refugees-januarySub-Saharan refugees sit on the deck of the Golfo Azzurro after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea on 27 January AP

Other refugees in the UK

In addition to resettlement schemes, anyone arriving in the UK can ask for asylum. relatively few make it here, compared to the numbers in Europe. If  they do come and apply for asylum, their cases are processed by the asylum tribunal system, run by the Home office, and some are granted refugee status and indefinite leave to remain.

There were 36,465 asylum applications in the UK from main applicants in the year ending June 2016. The largest number of applications came from nationals of Iran (4,910), followed by Iraq (3,199), Pakistan (2,992), Eritrea (2,790), Afghanistan (2,690) and Syria (2,563). There was around one dependant for every five main applicants.

38% (9,957) were granted of asylum or an alternative form of protection at the initial decision. The grant rate for Iranian nationals was 40% (1,219 grants), compared with 12% (239 grants) for Iraqi nationals. Overall, there was a grant rate of 38%. The grant rate for Syrian applicants was 87%.


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