Syrians sent to league-topping Coventry
Chris Game, from the University of Birmingham, considers this week’s report from the Home Affairs select committee on migration and looks at what our local councils are doing to help Syrian refugees.
As a football team, Coventry City last finished top of a significant league table very nearly as long ago as England won a World Cup. So when the City Council does so – in fact, finishes almost in a league of its own – it may not feel quite as good, but should still impress and be applauded.
The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has just published the latest of its thematic reports on immigration issues, this one’s minimalist title – Migration Crisis – leaving no room for doubt as to its focus, and indeed tone.
It’s a sizable report, over 70 pages, most of which is a rehearsal of the recent massive growth in the numbers of refugees and migrants attempting to enter Europe, its causes, and the respective responses of the EU and UK.
It’s a useful account, packed with important, if often daunting, statistics. Over a quarter of a million migrants had entered Europe by sea in the first half of this year; nearly 3,000 migrant deaths recorded in the same period; 38,000 first time asylum applications in the UK in 2015, amounting to just 3.1% of the EU total.
Only small proportions of either the report (about two pages) or the statistics relate directly to local authorities’ record in responding to the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme (VPRS), extended by the Cameron Government last autumn to a commitment to resettle during this Parliament up to 20,000 Syrians in clear need of international protection.
Indeed, its conclusions and recommendations on this topic are really rather bland (p.20):
The UK Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme has started well … we reiterate our support for the Government’s (20,000) commitment … however, it is clear that more local authorities need to contribute to providing asylum accommodation … the Government needs to be much more proactive in encouraging a fair distribution of asylum seekers throughout the country and Ministers should take a lead on this …
But committee members must have known that, if their deliberations and tempered recommendations were going to get any media attention at all in the first week of August, they’d need more than a worthy report and some worrying stats. Hence the league table, the top few inches of which are reproduced below.
Even these few entries convey one of the report’s most striking findings: that “there is now a two-tier system among local authorities, with some providing support to Syrian refugees and others not doing so.” Contrary to first appearances, it’s not a reference to the Scottish border, but it almost could be – because, of the 1,602 people accepted under the VPRS to March 2016, Scotland, with just over 5% of the UK population, had accepted 38%.
It’s certainly a very unbalanced two tiers – because only 68 local authorities (17% or 1 in 6) had taken any of the 1,602; the remaining five-sixths between them had not resettled a single one.
It makes Coventry’s record even more estimable, so I thought I’d show in the second table how it compared with other, particularly the other West Midlands, authorities.
Interesting, isn’t it. That Renfrewshire and Argyll & Bute, with a joint population a little larger than Solihull’s, similar to Wolverhampton’s, and considerably smaller than those of Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall, can manage to resettle 126 refugees – and the West Midlands five between them not one. But then neither did Manchester.
Much more importantly, it’s clear, both from the report’s reading of these statistics and its reference to the Government’s reluctance to provide them, that it doesn’t rate highly the likelihood of Cameron’s target being reached without a pretty dramatic injection of ministerial effort.
Which presumably meant collectively as a government – although the committee’s chair, Keith Vaz, in introducing the report, took it a step further, suggesting that cabinet ministers should show leadership in encouraging their own local authorities to take their fair share of Syrian refugees.
I love these kinds of wild, generalised condemnations or calls to action – they’re such fun to check out. By my reckoning, the main local authorities represented by the 22 Commons members of the current cabinet have resettled a grand total of 29 Syrian Vulnerable Persons: 22 by Ashford (Damian Green – Work & Pensions), and 9 by Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark – Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy). The other 20, headed by Theresa May’s Windsor & Maidenhead: zip.
As for Vaz himself, with his own Leicester City Council only managing 15, he’s not exactly preaching from the high ground either.
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