Saturday, May 28, 2016

A limited welcome

Home Office reveals 1,602 people have been resettled so far under plan to accept 20,000, with only 33 housed in London. Scotland has welcomed more Syrian refugees than any other part of the UK under the government’s official resettlement scheme, accepting 610 arrivals, including 68 in Renfrewshire, 58 in Argyll and Bute and 53 in Edinburgh alone.

The most welcoming council in the country is Coventry, where 105 Syrians. Councils in Yorkshire and the Humber have taken in 171 and 159 have gone to the West Midlands. Of the 33 London boroughs, by contrast, only Camden, Islington, Barnet and Kingston-upon-Thames have taken any refugees in the period. No councils in the north-west, including the 10 in Greater Manchester, accepted any refugees. Welsh councils have resettled 78 people, and Northern Ireland 51.

Abdul Khan, the deputy leader of Coventry city council, told the Guardian the refugees who have come to the city include those with “significant medical needs”. He added: “We have accepted them because it is the right thing to do. The refugees have experienced some of the worst aspects of human behaviour, and when in September 2015 we were asked to offer further places to the national scheme, we did so.”

Sabir Zazai, director of the Coventry refugee and migrant centre, who himself came to the city as a refugee from Afghanistan in 1999, said the community had been very supportive of the council’s welcoming stance. “Coventry is a city that has gone through war, that is turning its own experiences of conflict and war into love, care and compassion for others. When we first had these discussions, the general response was, if we can help, why shouldn’t we help? There wasn’t any hesitation.”

Eight months ago leaders in Greater Manchester agreed to take 1,500 Syrians on the VPR scheme over a five-year period but none have yet arrived in the region. Ivan Lewis, the MP for Bury South who is seeking the Labour nomination for Greater Manchester mayor, criticised the combined authority in the region for not doing its bit. Lewis said: “I am very disappointed that Greater Manchester despite securing funding has so far failed to take one Syrian adult refugee. This is not acceptable and I am calling on the combined authority to take action as a matter of urgency. Greater Manchester has a long and proud tradition of welcoming refugees. It is now urgent we show leadership and fulfil our moral obligation to victims of a bloody civil war.”

But no refugees were accepted in the six-month period by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, in which the constituency of the home secretary, Theresa May, is located, or by Watford borough council, home to the constituency of the Home Office minister responsible for resettling refugees, Richard Harrington. There were no acceptances in the boroughs in which several other senior ministers’ constituencies are found, including George Osborne (Cheshire East), Philip Hammond (Runnymede) and Michael Gove (Surrey Heath). Cameron’s local authority, West Oxfordshire, has taken 10.

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