Andrew Jones MP said:
No-one can fail to be moved by the plight of the people making this journey or by the pictures we have seen on our television screens recently.
Our response to it must be carefully considered as well as prompt. The Prime Minister confirmed that we will be helping 20,000 Syrians between now and 2020 through an extension to the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. We will prioritise those most at need – vulnerable children and orphans – in a national effort.
The Government will offer support to councils so they can house refugees. I have spoken to the Leader of Harrogate Borough Council, Cllr Richard Cooper, who confirmed that our local council will play a full part in this national effort to welcome refugees just as the Council did housing Kosovan refugees in the 1990s.
It is important, whatever we do, that we do not make the problem even worse. In the first six months of this year 220,000 people were known to have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe but the real figure is likely to be significantly higher. Over 11 million people have fled their homes in Syria because of the conflict there.
Our approach will be to offer help and refuge to those fleeing war and terror, ensuring that they are supported. Taking refugees directly from the official UN camps near Syria ensures that their journey to the UK is a safe one and will not encourage more people to risk their lives and help combat people trafficking.
The support we are offering is an extension of that given over many years. Since 2011, 4980 Syrians and their families have been granted asylum in the UK. Thousands from other nearby areas have also been granted asylum.
We are the second largest bilateral donor of aid related to this crisis and have provided over £900million to those in Syria and the surrounding areas with a further £100million pledged. We have funded shelter, food, water and vital medical supplies for millions of refugees fleeing the conflict and helping them to survive in the countries around Syria, like Jordan and Lebanon.
HMS Enterprise is also stationed in the Mediterranean alongside Border Force teams and together with HMS Bulwark they have rescued more than 6,700 people.
So we will be helping more refugees and we should be proud of the efforts we have made long before the tragic photos we have seen recently. Those efforts have been substantial and longstanding and in the best traditions of our international support for those in need.
Harrogate Borough Council have also re-iterated that it has remained adaptable to the developing situation and, while in April, they had a policy to not take refugees, in-line with many other authorities, that position has now changed.
Councillor Mike Chambers, Harrogate Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing said:
All local authorities in the United Kingdom received a letter from central government earlier this year asking if they could offer resettlement to Syrian refugees with high levels of health and/or social care needs (such as those people with a disability or chronic health issues), living in refugee camps in various locations.
At that time, the Government’s focus was on assisting those who were most vulnerable rather than the more general refugee population, and it emphasised that authorities offering assistance must be able to provide the necessary levels of health and social care in addition to “bricks and mortar” accommodation. As an individual authority Harrogate Borough Council does not have the capability of supporting these needs, responsibility for which sits with North Yorkshire County Council.
We consulted with our district colleagues and North Yorkshire County Council, and took the collective view that at that time we could not offer the support required.
The situation has worsened considerably since last April and there has been a huge increase in the number of those seeking refuge. While we may not be able to provide support to certain highly vulnerable people with high level needs, there are groups which we can help. We are currently looking at what part we can play in the national effort that the Prime Minister announced yesterday concerning the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Harrogate Borough Council will be attending a meeting next week with the Home Office, North Yorkshire County Council and other authorities in the region to discuss how we can work together to best support the national commitment to welcoming Syrian refugees. The council has a history of helping the most vulnerable, such as the resettlement work we undertook with Kosovan refugees in the 1990s. We have helped refugees before and we will help them again.