Many councils resettle no Syrian refugees despite 'colossal' crisis

Huge swathes of Britain have not taken in any Syrian refugees since a new government programme was announced last year, it has been revealed.

In September 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Government would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament to 2020.

But by March 2016, 1,602 people had been accepted under the scheme.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said the situation was "very disappointing".

Mr Vaz described Europe's efforts to address the "colossal" refugee crisis as "lamentable" and said Britain has "done its bit".

But he criticised those councils which have taken in no Syrian refugees.

"We're very disappointed that huge swathes of our country have no Syrian refugees, despite the conscience of the nation being that people are happy to have them locally," Mr Vaz said.

"This has got to happen if we're going to meet the target of 20,000. At the moment the target looks like not being met."

Refugees have been concentrated in urban areas like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leicester, Birmingham, and Cabinet ministers have failed to encourage their local authorities to take more in, MPs found.

Coventry, Nottingham and Renfrewshire have taken the most refugees since the programme began, the latest figures show.

In a wide-ranging report on the migration crisis, the committee:

  • Called on the Government to accept 157 unaccompanied children in Calais who have family members in the UK "as a one-off"

  • Warned that Britain's Border Force has a "worryingly low" number of boats for patrolling the coast

  • Described conditions in Calais migrant camps as "absolutely atrocious"

  • Accused the EU and its member states of failing to anticipate the scale of migrant flows

  • Said maintaining the Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border checks to take place on French soil, should be a "priority"

By March, the majority of local authorities had not had any Syrian refugees resettled in their area under the scheme announced last September.

Of the 1,602 people accepted, 610 were resettled in Scotland, 171 in the Yorkshire and Humberside region and 105 in Coventry. Only four London Boroughs - Barnet, Camden, Islington and Kingston upon-Thames - have taken any of the Syrian refugees.

Here are the 10 local authorities that have resettled the most Syrians under the scheme by March 2016:

  • Coventry - 105

  • Nottingham - 81

  • Renfrewshire - 68

  • Gateshead - 62

  • Argyll and Bute - 58

  • Newcastle upon Tyne - 54

  • Edinburgh - 53

  • Bradford - 52

  • Belfast - 51

  • Glasgow - 51

The report said 157 children with relatives in Britain should be brought to the country from Calais migrant camps "as a one-off".

Mr Vaz said it was "unacceptable" that the children have still not been brought to the UK.

The report also recommended the Government increase its use of family reunion visas for refugee asylum cases to make it easier for applications to be made in countries of origin and to help avoid women and children "feeling obliged to attempt high-risk and illegal travel to Europe in order to be reunited with male relatives".

Many areas have not resettled any Syrians under the scheme. Credit: PA

Alex Fraser, of the British Red Cross, welcomed the call to do more to reunite refugee families.

He added: "It is unacceptable that vulnerable children, who have been through more trauma than most adults could imagine, are stuck in camps when they have family here in the UK who could be looking after them."

In their report, MPs also called for security to be stepped up at smaller ports amid fears they are being targeted by criminal gangs.

There was controversy earlier this year when it emerged just three Border Force cutter vessels were being used to patrol the UK's 7,000 miles of coastal borders. Ministers have announced new boats will be introduced, but by contrast reports suggest Italy has as many as 600 boats for 4,700 miles of coast.

Mr Vaz also warned that the Paris attacks "demonstrated that terrorists are exploiting this crisis" and said the EU external border must improve security - including deploying equipment to fingerprint and check everyone against security databases.

The report said children with families in the UK should be allowed entry. Credit: Reuters

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Our priority is to offer humanitarian support to those most in need while maintaining the security of our borders."

She said refuge has already been provided for more than 1,800 Syrians under the scheme, while the Government is "on track" to deliver on its pledge to resettle 20,000 by the end of the parliament.

The spokeswoman added: "We have also made clear our commitment to bringing very vulnerable children from Europe.

"At the same time we continue to work tirelessly to maintain the security of our border, intercepting attempts to enter the UK illegally and targeting the callous gangs that profit from people smuggling."