Syrian refugees at a camp in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon Photo credit: Reuters/Aziz Taher
Syrian refugees at a camp in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon Photo credit: Reuters/Aziz Taher

The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Scheme (VPRS) is the United Kingdom's resettlement program for Syrian refugees who live in refugee camps in Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. How does the program work and does it have room for improvement?

The VPRS aims to provide "crisis protection" in the United Kingdom to the most vulnerable refugees living in refugee camps in the Middle East. This protection encompasses the same rights granted to persons with asylum in the UK and will last for five years. It includes the right of these refugees to work, eligibility for welfare benefits and access to healthcare, among others. Beneficiaries of the VPRS are also allowed to apply for family reunification.

The program began in January 2014. The British government works closely with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to determine which refugees from the refugee camps in the Middle East fit the criteria for the scheme. The UK seeks out Syrian refugees who cannot receive adequate support from their host country in the Middle East. Women and children at risk, people in need of medical treatment, and survivors of torture or violence are among those prioritized for admission under the scheme.

Read more: What does the UK asylum process look like?

Initially, only several hundred refugees were to be admitted under the scheme. From January to June 2015, there were 216 cases resettled. In September 2015, however, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the program would be expanded to include 20,000 refugees, to be resettled by 2020. 

In July 2017, the scheme was again expanded to include non-Syrian nationals who had fled the war in Syria. In February, former British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she was optimistic that the program would achieve the target in time. According to the British government, 10,538 people had been relocated under the scheme by February 2018.

Integration in the UK

The British government works with NGOs such as Refugee Action UK to redistribute the refugees around the UK. Refugees do not have a say in this process. According to the government, refugees are to be spread equally across the country so local authorities do not get too burdened by a large influx of new arrivals. However, figures released by the Home Office show that Syrian refugees have been distributed unevenly. Overall, poorer regions in northern England and Scotland have taken in more refugees relative to their population than wealthier regions like London or the South East.

Councils are under no obligation to accept Syrian refugees. If they do offer to take some, all resettlement costs are covered by the British central government in the first year. The funding is reduced in the following years. 

Refugee Action UK, an NGO, assists these Syrians when they arrive in the UK. They provide advice on how the asylum process works and assisting local communities in integrating the refugees.

Room for improvement?

In August 2017, The Independent newspaper obtained figures showing that only five percent of refugees resettled under the scheme had disabilities, although it is estimated that one in five people fleeing the Syrian war is disabled. The newspaper also reported claims by the opposition Labour party that the government program was excluding the most at-risk groups.

The Handicap International organization, in a report titled "Hidden Victims of the Syrian Crisis: Disabled, Injured and Older Refugees" found that 22 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan had serious impairments and that 80 percent of injuries of Syrians were a result of the civil war.  

In November 2017, the UNHCR released a study monitoring the progress of the VPRS, and while it said the program was well-functioning, it showed that there are some areas of improvement. The study, titled "Towards Integration: The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme in the United Kingdom," suggested more local volunteers should be trained as interpreters for refugees in order to boost understanding between refugees and locals. The UNHCR also suggests that the British government needs to fund local authorities to provide more housing for the refugees, as there is a lack of good-quality housing. 


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