Refugee Briefing from Cornwall Council’s Leader

Posted on: 25th October 2015

Refugee Briefing from Cornwall Council’s Leader:

The Government is still committed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK over the term of Parliament as an extension to the existing Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme. This scheme, which is currently voluntary for local authorities, only covers vulnerable refugees (women, those with severe medical needs and those at risk of torture) who are still in refugee camps plus their immediate family. The 20,000 national figure includes family members so we are potentially looking at around 5,000 four person families being resettled in the UK over this period. Under the scheme refugees are granted a five year humanitarian protection visa. This means they arrive in the UK with a NI number in place and can access public funds and apply for jobs. Security and health checks will be carried out before the refugees travel to UK.

The Home Office has now published a funding proposal setting out a method for covering the first year costs for local areas which take part in the resettlement scheme. The funding for children includes payments towards the costs of education and special educational needs and the Home Office have said they are willing to hear representations for additional funding on a case by case basis.

Funding arrangements for subsequent years have also been agreed in principle but these details are still being developed. The current expectation is that, after the five years, refugees will either return home or apply for permanent resettlement in the UK.

The current timescale between identification in the region to arrival in UK is about 6-8 weeks.

We have been meeting with colleagues from councils across the South West to discuss the regional position and we are working with other councils. It has been estimated that the South West would take around 3% of the total national figure – approximately 600 people over the 5 year period. This would mean 150 people across Devon and Cornwall – approximately 60 people for Cornwall.

These figures may increase if the Government changes its current position or we become involved in the Asylum Dispersal Scheme (which is separate and focussed on helping those who travel from the affected regions and present themselves closer to the UK). Plymouth is already voluntarily participating in this scheme. Under current legislation councils can be instructed to take part in scheme, however, so far, the Government has not said it has plans to do this. That said, the Home Office has indicated that it would like to have further conversations with Chief Executives of Councils in the South West to discuss their participation in the Asylum Dispersal Scheme. We will ensure that such discussions take place

For the last two months Council officers have been working very hard to ensure that we will be ready to resettle refugees in Cornwall once the Government confirms its plans.

There has been considerable public interest in supporting the refugees – with an e-petition launched on 7 September ‘Refugees welcome in Cornwall’ currently having 145 signatures. We are keen to work with local communities and individuals as part of our wider preparations and have set up a page on our website with information and advice on ways members of the public wishing to provide support can help . We have also set up an e mail address for gather offers of accommodation from the public – – so far we have received offers of 8 self-contained properties and 12 rooms.

We have briefed MPs and the Public Sector Group on the current position and the preparations we are making, and have set up an internal working group led by Paul Masters and the Corporate Strategy team to coordinate information and support planning across relevant services and with partner agencies –. We are also working with Inclusion Cornwall to look at the potential to build upon the successful migrant worker programme. Initial feedback from the working group indicates that we could provide support for 60 people (or approximately 15 families) over the 5 year period in Cornwall. Officers are working to map the capacity in schools so we can avoid increasing the pressure on primary school places in areas such as Launceston, St Austell, Newquay, Bude and Truro and the availability of housing.

Using existing council housing stock to accommodate refugees would need changes to tenancy policies to enable a fixed term tenancy. There is no pool of empty stock and access will depend on what stock is empty (ie the tenant has moved out and we are in the process of re-letting) at the time families from Syria arrive in Cornwall. As we only have housing stock in mid and east Cornwall, we will need to work with housing associations and private landlords in west and north Cornwall.We are also exploring the feasibility of using other buildings, for example buildings that have been subject to compulsory purchase orders, other council owned empty properties, privately rented properties and properties which have been volunteered by local people, to potentially house refugees.

We are still waiting for clear information on how the resettlement process will work in practice but I wanted to reassure you that, in the meantime, we have been working hard to ensure that we have a meaningful, co-ordinated plan in place. We share the commitment of the public in Cornwall to offer help wherever possible and, once we know the demand, we will respond.