Refugees and asylum seekers
Herefordshire is providing much-needed safe accommodation in the community for Syrian refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme (SVPRS). The SVPRS has worked well to date, with no significant issues or pressures. The first Syrian families were welcomed to Herefordshire in late November 2016. Further families arrived in January and March 2017 with the final family arriving in June 2017. Currently sixty Syrian refugees have been resettled in Herefordshire under the scheme, comprising fourteen households. Families coming to Herefordshire under the SVPRS have been housed in privately rented accommodation in Hereford city, or within 3 miles of the city centre, and are provided with an orientation and support service from Refugee Action for their first 12 months. For the earliest arrivals this is now coming to an end, but the families continue to receive some support with access to English language classes, managing housing and developing skills for employment through projects such as Building Better Opportunities. Herefordshire has agreed in principle to re-settle a further thirty five individuals through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). The reason for resettlement of those through the VCRS must be in relation to vulnerability of a child, although the child will be accompanied by a parent or guardian and may be resettled with other family members. Individuals resettled through the VCRS may be from any country in the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region. There is no financial risk to the council arising from further commitment to the SVPRS or VCRS as both schemes are funded by the Home Office.
General asylum dispersal scheme
Herefordshire Council has also agreed to the dispersal of up to forty asylum seekers to the county under the General Asylum Dispersal scheme. G4S have been contracted by the Government for the region to secure accommodation and provide transport for this group. No asylum seekers have yet been dispersed to Herefordshire under the scheme and concerns around the shortage of suitable, affordable accommodation and the lack of any registered providers of asylum advice in the county have been highlighted to G4S and Home Office. A small number of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeker Children (UASC) have arrived in the county either through the National Transfer Scheme (which was set up to help alleviate pressure on areas of the country where large clusters of asylum seekers occur), or through ‘spontaneous drops’ (where asylum seekers finish their journey, or are being deposited by traffickers spontaneously in any location). The council is working towards fulfilling its pledge to provide support for up to 25 young people classed as UASC. Children under the age of 16 are placed with foster carers and those aged 16 and over may be placed in foster care, shared accommodation or supported lodgings. The children cease to be categorised as UASC upon reaching age 18. UASC’s are considered as Looked After Children and upon reaching their 18th birthday, as Care Leavers.
Needs of refugees and asylum seekers
Refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable groups and face multiple challenges. While younger children can rapidly reach a good level of attainment in English, this becomes progressively harder with age. Lack of English can make it difficult for adults to find work and to access services. The three biggest challenges faced by refugees are usually finding employment, the cost of housing (which often exceeds the amount they can claim in housing benefit) and family reunification. Recruitment of foster carers and supported lodging providers for children and young people has been a success and one shared house with support has been established, but to date it has been challenging to work with colleges to meet the educational needs of the young people aged 16+ and to provide them with a range of educational opportunities. Some children placed in Herefordshire through the National Transfer Scheme have felt they ‘stand out’ and would prefer to be re-settled in more diverse localities. Refugees and asylum seekers are more likely to experience hate crime, have lower educational attainment due to language barriers, and need urgent dentist and optician appointments due to lack of basic healthcare where they have been living, or to suffer from ill health related to, for example, previous poor diet and living conditions, or psychological trauma.