UK resettlement offers Syrians fleeing war a chance to rebuild lives
Syrian refugees given protection in the UK are benefitting from efforts to help them integrate in their new society, although more could be done to allow them to find their feet quickly, according to a new study by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and partners released today.
The report, Towards Integration, interviewed refugees arriving under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), as well as local authorities supporting them, to highlight the progress and challenges of integrating in the UK.
The report showed that, overall, the VPRS programme was performing well in facilitating integration. The refugees interviewed were thankful to the Government for the opportunity to come and grateful for the genuine and warm welcome they had received from civic groups and local authorities around the country.
“I like it here people have been very welcoming.”
However, it also highlighted some areas for improvement, particularly in English language provision, as well as the need for further support for housing and employment. Among key recommendations, the report called for the establishment of a national integration strategy to better inform and guide those supporting refugees, for the benefit of this population.
The refugees themselves wanted to express appreciation. Hamza, Asma and their three children arrived under the VPRS in 2016. They are now living in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Hamza spoke of the generous welcome received locally. “People are so friendly here,” he told UNHCR this year. Ramzy, another VPRS refugee living in Abingdon, also felt happy and settled in his new home. “I like it here,” Ramzy said, “people have been very welcoming.”
The study highlighted education and language as key factors for successful integration. Refugees were heartened that their children could catch up on lost schooling; most children were able to quickly acquire English skills and make friends.
Mohammad and his family arrived in Scotland under the VPRS scheme in 2016. Speaking last year, Mohammad, 12 at the time, was set to start at his new school in Edinburgh. “I miss Damascus, but I look forward to school,” Mohammad said. “I want to be a doctor. I want to help people.”
The VPRS was established in response to the deadly Syrian conflict, which produced one of the largest refugee crises of recent decades. More than six years since the conflict began, Syrians still constitute the largest refugee population in the world, with over five million forced to flee to neighbouring countries, from where they eke out a precarious existence.
With fighting still flaring in Syria, conditions are not yet in place for the refugees to return. In this context, resettlement programmes, like the VPRS, offer a vital lifeline, allowing them to rebuild their lives without embarking on perilous journeys.
UNHCR, meanwhile, hopes that the Government builds on the success of the programme, and offers more vulnerable refugees the chance to piece together shattered lives in safety in the UK.
"Support for integration...has been striking."
“The UK clearly has the capacity to resettle meaningful numbers of refugees,” said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR’s Representative in London. ”Integration of refugees is complex. By and large it is working, and support for integration -- from the public, local authorities and Government -- has been striking.”
Refugees were generally happy with housing and reported feeling secure. However, the stock of affordable rental property was small and diminishing. Two-thirds of VPRS arrivals were survivors of violence and torture or had specific medical needs. The VPRS allows them to access crucial treatment they would otherwise be denied. Still, some cited being overwhelmed by the complexity of the medical referrals. Some local authorities were also concerned about the prospect of funding health care after 2020. Some also expressed a lack of confidence in understanding how family reunification processes work.
Dipti Pardeshi, UK Chief of Mission at the International Organization for Migration, lauded the ongoing integration efforts of various stakeholders including the Home Office, local authorities, and the public. “A ‘whole-of-government’ and a ‘whole-of-society’ approach go a long way towards achieving successful integration outcomes that also lead to strengthened social cohesion, greater economic activity and a win-win for the refugees and host societies,” she said.
This year, the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador David Morrissey met one Syrian family – Maha, Talal and their two-year-old son – who were living in Lebanon at the time. They were identified by UNHCR for resettlement under the VPRS programme.
Maha and Talal told Morrissey about danger they had left behind in Syria. “There is no home for them anymore, it’s just rubble. So there is no place for them to go back to,” Morrissey said.
They are now in London. Recently, Morrissey caught up with the family to see how they were settling into their new life. “They want to really take on everything here in the UK, learn the language and be part of society,” he said.
“I want to work. I want to learn the language and contribute something.”
A key finding of Towards Integration was that further support for refugees accessing employment would encourage self-reliance and bolster integration.
A former carpenter, Talal was already taking English language classes, had created a CV, and was looking forward to getting back to work. “I want to work,” Talal said. “I want to learn the language and contribute something.”
Read the full report here.
Read the full Press Release here.
Additional photos can be downloaded from Refugees Media here.