Flagship refugee sponsorship scheme set to fall ‘well short’ of target

Only 53 refugees were brought to Britain in the first 14 months of a flagship community sponsorship scheme, an inspection report reveals.

The initiative was introduced by the Government in July 2016 to allow churches, charities, faith groups and businesses to take on the role of supporting people arriving through resettlement routes.

A watchdog review published on Tuesday disclosed that, from the launch to the beginning of October last year, fewer than 20 sponsors had been approved and just 53 refugees had been resettled.

The report by Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Bolt noted that Home Office managers stressed that ministers had never imposed targets for the Community Sponsorship Scheme (CSS).

There was an “internal ambition” to resettle 50 individuals with 10 sponsors in the first year, and after 12 months these figures stood at 49 and nine. For the second year, officials were aiming to resettle 250 refugees with 50 sponsors.

Mr Bolt’s assessment said: “Reasonably enough, the Home Office had introduced a rigorous application process for the CSS, designed to ensure that sponsors had the means and commitment to support refugees as required.

“The CSS had long-term potential, beyond the current scheme.

“Even so, CSS take-up looked set to fall well short of the Home Office’s relatively modest ‘internal ambition’ for the year to July 2018.

“The Home Office needed to have had staff in place earlier to capitalise on the initial enthusiasm for CSS, and was now having to try to rekindle this.”

When the CSS programme was launched, then home secretary Amber Rudd described it as a “ground-breaking new development”.

It allows community groups to provide housing and support for those brought to Britain from Syria and other countries in the Middle East and north Africa.

Lambeth Palace was the first approved sponsor and it was revealed at the launch that a family was living in a cottage in the grounds of the historic London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Details of the progress of the sponsorship scheme were revealed in an inspection of the Government’s wider drive to resettle 20,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war by 2020.

The Government is more than halfway towards meeting the target, with figures released in February showing that 10,538 people have been granted refuge under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).

Inspectors found that the processes on which the scheme relied were “essentially effective”, but flagged up how the average timescale between referral to resettlement has risen to 35 weeks.

The report noted that a two-day cultural orientation workshop delivered two weeks prior to departure appeared to be a case of “too little, too late”, especially as refugees were arriving in the UK with little or no English.

Publishing his report, Mr Bolt said all the agencies involved in VPRS deserve “enormous credit” for what has been achieved so far.

He added: “Given that the scheme is delivering what it set out to achieve, it may seem ‘nit-picking’ to focus on where it could do better.

“Nonetheless, subject to making necessary improvements to its data collection and management, the Home Office could do more to analyse and evaluate the various stages of the resettlement process, with a view to sharing ‘best practice’ and achieving greater consistency of treatment and outcomes.”

The Home Office said it was pleased with the start the community sponsorship scheme had made, and praised the efforts of groups across the UK who have welcomed or are preparing to welcome refugee families.

A spokesman for the department said the report recognises the “considerable achievements” of the VPRS.

He said: “As a country we can be proud that we are over half way towards honouring our commitment of resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees who have fled Syria by 2020 so they can rebuild their lives here in safety.

“We welcome the recognition that the VPRS is operating effectively and that there is every reason to believe that we will deliver our commitment.

“However, we are not complacent and recognise the need to keep improving to ensure the scheme continues to work well.

“We are currently undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of the scheme and will continue to engage with key stakeholders and delivery partners throughout.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jane Barlow / PA Wire.