Bishop of Carlisle welcomes progress made under Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme

On 7th June 2018 Lord Scriven led a debate in the House of Lords on the motion ‘that this House takes note of the report of the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, An Inspection of the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.’ The Bishop of Carlisle, Rt Revd James Newcome, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for securing this debate. I also extend my thanks to the inspectors for their helpful report. While I am about it, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his kind words.

Most of all, I thank all those who have contributed to the good aspects of the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme thus far: Home Office officials, particularly the resettlement, asylum support and integration directorate; local authorities and devolved Administrations; refugee charities, and, not least, faith and community groups who have played their part in offering a very warm welcome. Expanding our resettlement offer from 750 people a year to the number under VPRS has required compassion, courage and not a small degree of competence.

But the work is not finished or perfect, as we have been reminded. Therefore, I want to use this speech to highlight some of the questions raised by the report that we must answer if our resettlement work is to receive approval in future reports. As the current report indicates, the 2015 expansion of the VPRS happened very quickly. This led to central government making a commitment and then offering a generous package of funding to ensure that local authorities would deliver that commitment. Such a model of top-down policy-making may well have been necessary at that point, but it is not sustainable in the longer term and stands in stark contrast to the policy design and delivery that has happened since.

From a Church of England perspective, we can testify to the directorate’s commitment to working collaboratively with the whole of society to welcome ​and integrate refugees. The design of the community sponsorship scheme has been a particular success and I pay tribute to the work our national refugee welcome co-ordinator is doing alongside Home Office and civil society partners to see this scheme grow.

The success of the whole policy, however, relies heavily on trust between the stakeholders. The Home Office must further develop this spirit of collaboration, as the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, emphasised, as decisions are made about our resettlement commitments beyond 2020. Civil society, local authorities, metro mayors and the devolved Administrations all have a part to play in this, and the Government will struggle to coerce anyone into any policy that they alone own. So I ask the Minister: what is being done to ensure that future resettlement commitments are made and owned by the whole of society and not just Marsham Street?

May I also ask the Minister for an assurance that the negotiations around the global compact on refugees at the United Nations will be approached in that same spirit of collaboration? Tragically, as we are only too well aware, the Syrian conflict shows no sign of resolution. Beyond 2020, there will still be a need to offer protection and a home to those affected by it. Yet there are also other refugee crises in need of our attention. We cannot ignore those displaced by conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and the DRC, among others. Our future resettlement must be responsive to other humanitarian crises, but of course we cannot do this alone. The UK should be a world leader in welcoming refugees and vulnerable persons, not simply by doing it better than everyone else but by enabling everyone else to do it better as well.

Such leadership is not just about refugees who arrive through resettlement. Domestically, we need to dismantle the two-tier system identified in the APPG on Refugees 2017 report Refugees Welcome?. Doing this will involve facilitating widespread support for asylum seekers and refugees, particularly during the very vulnerable stage of the move-on period immediately after refugee status is granted. Dismantling the two-tier system will also involve heeding the report’s recommendation of an integration strategy for refugees, learning perhaps from Scotland’s “New Scots” strategy. I hope this recommendation will form part of the integrated communities strategy.

I also hope we can continue to learn from the experience of other countries. For instance, Canada’s private sponsorship programme allows community groups to name refugees they wish to sponsor, enabling the scheme to be used as a sort of family reunion. We might explore a pilot, allowing refugees already welcomed through the VPRS to work with their communities to do something similar with their family members, on the condition that they meet the UNHCR vulnerability criteria. Doing so would improve integration outcomes and would draw primarily on community assets rather than government resources.

As Canada teaches us, this work is the stuff out of which communities are built and on which they thrive. We hear from many involved that, while it has taken a community to integrate a family, it also seems often to have taken a family to make a community. The act of welcoming brings people together in new and deeper ​ways. I am confident that in future historians will write of the role VPRS had in helping Britain reimagine itself at this significant moment in our history. We are profoundly grateful for what has already been achieved, but we are also deeply conscious of the size and importance of the task of resettling vulnerable persons that lies ahead.


Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)….In conclusion, the report says the Home Office is generally doing a good job and should be congratulated. Things can always be improved, and where they can they should be but, clearly—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle made this point—lots of good work is taking place in the department and with partners in local government and the charity sector to help deal with the terrible tragedy in Syria and to help UNHCR deliver its role. That should not be lost, but there is certainly more that we could possibly do. If we can do things better then I hope the Government ​would want to strive to achieve that. Generally, as I have said, the Government should be congratulated on that work, and the report validates what they have done.

Lord Scriven: …We also need to set up an open and collaborative approach. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle clearly talked about that—not just within government but within churches, faith groups and the third sector. There needs to be more devolution to and empowerment of not just local government but the churches and the third sector locally to deal with and have flexibility with regard to those principles.

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