The United Kingdom has a proud record of helping those fleeing persecution, oppression, or tyranny from around the world. Alongside providing £10 billion a year to support people through our overseas aid, the UK is a global leader in refugee resettlement. Between 2016 and 2019 our country resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any member state of the EU.
In 2015, the Government committed to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees to flee the conflict in Syria through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). I am sure you will join me in welcoming the fact that the Government has since met that commitment.
In total across the full range of our resettlement schemes, the UK has now resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees over the past six years, with around half children. Importantly, these refugees are resettled directly from regions of conflict and instability, not from safe European countries. I believe that it is most important to prioritise those refugees in dangerous situations, not those already in Europe.
I welcome the fact that the Government provides safe and legal routes for people needing protection or seeking to reunite with their families. In the year ending December 2020, over 5,400 refugee family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those previously granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK. Over 29,000 family reunion visas have been issued in the last five years.
I have always believed that resettlement is vital as a safe and legal pathway to protection for vulnerable refugees fleeing persecution. It is right, and I will continue to ensure, that the Government continues to offer safe pathways for those in need. The launch of a new global UK Resettlement Scheme will build on the success of previous schemes and continue our proud record of resettling refugees who need our help from around the world.
It is also the case that refugees in the UK need to have the freedom to succeed as they settle. This means ensuring refugees have access to the tools required to become fully independent and provide for themselves and their families, which is why I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement that £14 million of funding will support newly granted refugees to learn English, move into work, access housing, and build links in their local communities. This will allow refugees to be in a position to contribute and integrate into the economic and cultural life of the UK.
Rest assured that the Nationality and Borders Bill will allow the UK to continue to resettle genuine refugees directly from places of danger and to offer refugee family reunions. It will improve support for refugees to help them build their life in the UK, integrate, and become self-sufficient members of society. The Bill also seeks to introduce a new temporary protection status for those who do not come directly to the UK or claim asylum without delay once here but who have, in any event, been recognised as requiring protection.
However, I would also like to reassure you that the proposals in the New Plan for Immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill fully comply with the UK's global obligations including commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention. As you will be aware, through the Bill, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally may also have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful. After looking into this, the UN Refugee Convention does allow for different treatment where, for example, refugees have not come directly from a country of persecution. For example, if someone enters the UK via a safe country, where they could have claimed asylum, they are not seeking refuge from imminent peril. Therefore, returning them to a safe third country is not inconsistent with the UN Refugee Convention.
Furthermore, the UK has a proud record of offering sanctuary to those who need it. In accordance with its international obligations, the UK considers each claim for asylum on its individual merits. I know that the Government takes its international responsibilities seriously and will grant protection to those in genuine need.
In order to make the system fairer and more effective, the Government plans to introduce new asylum reception centres, to replace hotels. I understand that the reception centre model is used in many European countries including Switzerland and Denmark. These will provide simple, safe and secure accommodation to stay in while their claims and returns are being processed.
While the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK does not include provisions on asylum, returns, family reunion for unaccompanied minors, or illegal migration, both the UK and EU note the importance of good management of migratory flows, and recognise the geographical and logistical circumstances, including the ferry services and the Common Travel Area. Therefore, I welcome that the UK and EU released a joint political declaration which made clear the UK's intention to engage in bilateral discussions with the most concerned Member States to discuss suitable practical arrangements on asylum, family reunion for unaccompanied minors or illegal migration.
In 2016, Parliament agreed to relocate a specified number of children from Europe to the UK – later settled at 480 following a consultation with local authorities. In July 2020, the Government confirmed that it had completed the transfers of 480 children from France, Greece, and Italy. It should also be noted that the UK also received the largest number of asylum applications from unaccompanied children in Europe in 2019. The New Plan for Immigration consultation has provided the opportunity to contribute views on the Government’s future approach on safe and legal routes to the UK including on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Finally, you may be pleased to hear that the UK’s resettlement schemes have been supported by over 300 local authorities to date, across all parts of the UK. Additionally, the Community Sponsorship Scheme enables local volunteer groups including charities and faith groups, to directly welcome and support refugees, helping with accommodation and integration support. Under the New Plan for Immigration the Government will work to ensure more resettled refugees can enter the UK through community sponsorship, encouraging stronger partnerships between local government and community groups.