You could not make it up if you wanted to: our “city of sanctuary” has resettled just 55 people up to this month compared with Bristol’s 119 by February last year.
At the last meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council, on Thursday 30 January, the Labour administration and its Green coalition partners, voted through a motion on child refugees.
It called on the chief executive of the council to write to the Home Secretary to restate the Green and Labour offer to house child refugees.
The motion also asked the chief executive to write to the Prime Minister, asking him to avow his support publicly for the basic principle of “safe passage” – and to state categorically that Brexit legislation will not be used to prevent children trapped in horrendous conditions in France, Greece and Italy from reuniting with their families in Britain.
My primary concern here is the first part of the motion as it relates directly to Brighton and Hove. The second part is important but is not directly related to our city.
The text of the motion said that the council had made an offer to central government as part of a scheme to house vulnerable refugee children from conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa.
The scheme is called the VPRS – or the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme – and has welcomed thousands of refugees, including from the conflict in Syria.
This government scheme is commendable and, as someone who comes from the Middle East myself, I find it admirable.
In fact, as the only BAME councillor in the city, I find it more than admirable. But, motions aside, the council’s record is abysmal.
The motion from the Greens and Labour stated that the resettlement scheme, which has been running for three years and was designed to resettle 3,000, has allowed only a mere 20 unaccompanied minors into the UK under its terms.
So, where does the Brighton and Hove’s record stand on this? In 2015, the “leaders group” agreed to resettle 10 households and, early last year, agreed a further 10 households. The target was therefore a miserable 20 households. Not very progressive, is it?
The delivery is even worse. The first families who came to Brighton and Hove on the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme arrived in December 2015.
But the only households to have been resettled by July 2019 were as follows
- One unaccompanied refugee child (children’s services took responsibility in the same way that they care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children).
- One Syrian family (two adults and a child) who arrived on the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. Eligibility for the programme relied on the particular needs of a child in the family who was at risk of violence in the country to which they had fled to from Syria.
- Thirteen Syrian households who arrived on the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme, comprising 25 adults and 19 children, two of whom have severe disabilities. Four babies had been born since arrival in the UK.
Fast forward to February 2020, the record does not look that much better, with council officers noting that is it “tricky” to count the “resettled households” as there have been changes to these numbers, partly because some of those who arrived together have split into two households since their arrival.
If we were, however, to count the number of “cases” at the point of arrival in the UK, then the number of households taken in by the city still stood at 16 (remember the target was 20).
Let’s go back and look at the Green and Labour motion and their record in power. What have they done?
- They have resettled 55 individuals (31 adults and 24 children) under the VPRS (Bristol’s total stood at 119 a whole year ahead of Brighton).
- They have resettled three individuals (two adults and a child) under the VCRS.
- An additional four babies have been born in the UK.
- They have welcomed three adults (two cases) who have moved to Brighton from other local authority areas in the south east.
- They have also received one girl on the VCRS who arrived as an unaccompanied minor but is now over 18.
Nationally, according to the government (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/over-10000-refugees-resettled-in-the-uk-under-flagship-scheme), at February 2018, two years ago, 10,538 refugees had been resettled on the VPRS, one of the largest global resettlement programmes, since it began.
At that time, Brighton and Hove had resettled more or less just 10 households. Again, by comparison, Bristol had resettled 119 people by February 2019.
The VPRS is just one of the routes by which the UK is helping to resettle refugees. In 2017, a total of 6,212 people were resettled in the UK – a 19 per cent increase on 2016 – with 4,832 of these people coming through the VPRS.
Additionally, 539 people arrived under the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS) which will resettle up to 3,000 at-risk children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa region by the end of this year.
This is the record of the Conservatives nationally under the VCRS – 539 vulnerable children compared with only two received by Labour and their Green partners in Brighton and Hove.
By December 2019, Birmingham had offered to support 80 minors, Bristol 60 and Leicester 50.
The record of the Labour administration and their Green coalition partners in Brighton and Hove is a disgrace and the figures speak for themselves.
Councillor Samer Bagaeen is a professor of planning and a Conservatives member of Brighton and Hove City Council.