Socialist Worker

How the Tory ‘hostile environment’ policies hit Syrian refugees

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2603

Prime minister Cameron met Syrian refugees in Lebanon in 2015 and offered his sympathy. Any family of more than six would later be barred from referral for entry to Britain

Prime minister Cameron met Syrian refugees in Lebanon in 2015 and offered his sympathy. Any family of more than six would later be barred from referral for entry to Britain (Pic: Georgina Coupe/Number 10 on flickr)


Hundreds of Syrian refugees who fled death and persecution have felt the full force of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policies after resettling in Britain.

A new report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration shows the racist treatment of Syrians who came under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).

Outrage at the refugee crisis forced then Tory prime minister David Cameron in September 2015 to commit to resettling 20,000 refugees under the VPRS.

Such a figure was far fewer than the number required. It meant, for example, that thousands more were trapped at Britain’s border in Calais.

But the 20,000 pledge was not reached. Some 10,299 Syrians had come to Britain from refugee camps in the region between January 2014 and the end of 2017.

The report details the difficulties to get onto the VPRS. “On 11 November 2015, recognising the shortage of larger properties, the Home Office issued an instruction to UNHCR to stop referring families with more than six members,” notes the report.

Any families of more than six people that were allowed in had to be “content to be split across two properties”.

Resettle

There is no shortage of large properties for the rich. The Tories spent £4.5 million to resettle William and Kate Windsor and their then two-child family to a 20 room four storey apartment in Kensington Palace in 2011.

Once in Britain many Syrian refugees were not helped to find work and make a decent life for themselves. “As at Spring 2017, only 48 (2 percent) of the refugees of working age resettled via the Scheme in 2016 had obtained paid employment,” said the report.

The Tories demanded that “integration” into British culture and learning English were key to integration. But the report found that “progress for most refugees had been slow” partly “because tuition was not readily available”.

And those Syrians that did try to learn English were penalised under the benefit sanctions regime. “Some refugees dependent on working age benefits had found themselves subject to ‘sanctions’ as a result of undertaking English language tuition rather than seeking work,” it said.

“Others had applications for Personal Independence Payments or Disability Living Allowance refused as Job Centre staff considered that they did not meet residence requirements.”

Refugees also had difficulty accessing medical services. “The scheme’s Finance Team told inspectors it was aware of instances where the NHS had sought funding for mental health provision and had been rejected as it appeared that funding would be used to create a service for the general population,” it said.

Some refugees faced benefit sanctions as a result of undertaking English language tuition

And some local authorities used money earmarked for special requirements to top up high rents.

The report shows the reality of the Tories’ “hostile environment”. This state-sponsored racism makes life hell for refugees and migrants—but also fuels racist attacks against them on the streets.

Syrian refugee Shahbaz Ali became the latest victim in Edinburgh last week after he was stabbed in a group attack. Activists from Stand Up To Racism Edinburgh planned a solidarity protest on Thursday.

We have to fight against the racist attacks—and against the racist hostile environment that fuels them.

No to racist attacks, Thursday 10 May, 5.30pm, corner of Home Street and Lauriston Place, Edinburgh. Details here

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