UK Politics

Syrian torture victims support urged by MPs

Syrian couple carry their children in a refugee camp north of Athens Image copyright Reuters

The government is being urged to do more to help Syrian torture survivors arriving in the UK as refugees.

More than half of Syrian refugees to the UK had suffered torture or violence but "only a few" had been referred for treatment, an MPs' committee said.

They also said a UK target to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by May 2020 remained a "significant challenge".

Councils said they were confident of meeting the target and now focused on ensuring families were well supported.

'Encouraging' progress

Former PM David Cameron pledged that the UK would take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. Up to the end of September 2016, 4,400 had been resettled.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said "encouraging" progress was being made but problems remained with the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Civil war has caused a mass movement of Syrians since 2011

It noted that few torture survivors had been referred to specialists for treatment, because of difficulties in identifying who needed help.

The government said it shared information given to it about refugees, before they arrived in the UK, but they could be reluctant to tell strangers what had happened to them - possibly believing it would affect their eligibility to come to the UK.

PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier said: "It is a stark fact that more than half of the refugees resettled under the programme by the end of June last year had suffered torture or violence and it is critical that such people receive specialist support."

The MPs' report said a review should be set up within six months to see what more could be done to identify and help victims.

Funding concerns

The committee also said meeting the 20,000 target remained a "significant challenge". While sufficient councils had volunteered to take refugees, they could only do so once housing, support and services were identified.

Some councils were concerned that the funding of £8,250 per person for their first year - reducing each year - was not sufficient to cover the cost of services needed, the report said.

The National Audit Office pointed out in September that a lack of school places and accommodation were among the "main barriers" to local authority involvement.

Friday's report also said some local authorities were confused about what services they were required to provide. Refugees settling in the UK are granted "humanitarian protection" rather than "refugee" status - which meant people could miss out on access to some public services like welfare benefits or student finance.

"Failing to address these issues could pose risks to the successful delivery of the programme in future," the report said.

'On target'

Lucy Gregg, of the organisation Freedom From Torture, said there were "serious gaps" in identifying Syrian torture victims.

"Early identification of torture survivors and the provision of specialist clinical services are absolutely vital in ensuring that those being resettled can integrate into their host communities," she said.

Immigration minister Robert Goodwill said the government was "on target" to resettle 20,000 people: "We have secured all the local authority pledges to reach our commitment, but the hard work across government involving the devolved administrations and local authorities will continue until we have turned all of these pledges into firm offers.

"We are providing substantial financial support to help local authorities provide vulnerable refugees with a safe environment and a chance to build their lives."

David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association, said councils were "confident" the target would be reached, adding: "The focus is now on ensuring families are well supported.

"Councils are and will be helping some of the most vulnerable families fleeing Syria who will need access to ongoing support services to help them cope with injuries, disabilities and recover from the severe trauma they may have experienced."

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