Northumberland set to welcome more refugee families after success of resettlement scheme

Northumberland looks set to welcome another 12 refugee families this year.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 7th May 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th May 2020, 10:50 am
Picture c/o Pixabay
Picture c/o Pixabay

The county council previously agreed to resettle 48 families under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) – through which local authorities provide accommodation and support but with funding coming from the Home Office – from 2016 to 2020.

This was in the wake of the brutal civil war taking place in Syria, which has seen millions of people flee their homeland.

The first families arrived in Northumberland in November 2016 and there are currently 90 adults and 97 children and young people living in the county.

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The current VPRS came to an end in March 2020 and while the Government has announced an intention to commit to a further five-year programme, no announcement on the financial details is expected until after the Comprehensive Spending Review – originally due at some point this year.

However, it has proposed a transitional programme for 2020-21 with the same level of funding as the previous scheme, although it is no longer focused solely on Syria or the Middle East.

Therefore, at its meeting on Tuesday May 12, the council’s cabinet is being recommended to approve the settlement of a further 12 refugee families this year.

The report to councillors sets out what has happened with the previous cohort, noting that ‘after the initial needs of settlement have been met (housing, health and benefits), it is necessary to focus support on the mechanisms that promote independence and integration within communities’.

It explains that all adults are offered a place on an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course and all children are placed in schools or nurseries, as part of the funded programme.

‘The level of provision in Northumberland is good, with adults offered nine hours ESOL per week through the Learning & Skills Service (attended by 72 service users),’ the report adds. ‘There is also provision through Newcastle College which 10 adults attend.’

The council’s asylum seeker and refugee team launched a pilot volunteer programme in Amble in July last year, with roles for befrienders, home visitors and running an informal group for conversational English. This is currently being reviewed before a second pilot is launched in Blyth and Cramlington.

The report does admit, however, that ‘the ability to participate in opportunities that move clients towards the labour market or to gain employment is critical and has been a challenge throughout the country’.

Progress has been made in Northumberland though since a task and finish group was set up to focus on this issue.

At the start of last year, only one individual was in paid employment, but by December, there were four adults in employment and 11 adults in (or had completed) an eight-week work placement with local employers.

That month, we reported that police in Amble have had to deal with hate crimes targeting a Syrian refugee family living in the town.

Neighbourhood Sergeant Steve Knight told a council meeting that his officers had been ‘concentrating on racially-aggravated anti-social behaviour and hate crime directed at a Syrian refugee family’.

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