Kingston’s first resettled Syrian refugee family are ‘integrating successfully’ according to local charity Refugee Action.
The family arrived in the borough on March 16 under the Home Office’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS).
Sanja Djeric-Kane, director of Refugee Action Kingston, told the Courier the family are settling in well but she could not comment further on their well-being.
She said: “They are integrating successfully but I cannot speak further on the issue as we have a contract with the council regarding the family and need to go through them.”
Kingston was the first council to pledge to take in 50 Syrian refugees last summer under the VPRS, with the national target set at 20,000 over five years. As of December 2015, official statistics show that 1,337 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the UK under the scheme.
Council leader Kevin Davies said he is unsure of when the next family will arrive in the borough and the campaign is still ongoing to find suitable accommodation.
He said: “I am not sure when the next family will arrive. Finding properties has been slow and hard work, but we have started a campaign to try and get more landlords on-board. I’ve had hundreds of people email me with offers of rooms in houses and even private jets but the VPRS doesn’t allow for us to accept rooms.”
Davies explained that finding landlords who want to rent self contained properties has been the main obstacle in acquiring accommodation.
He said: “There is a lack of landlords who want to rent their self contained properties. It has to be self contained and the landlords who have these properties are either renting in the private sector or through social housing.”
The VPRS identifies the most vulnerable Syrian refugees as recommended by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. They are screened for security and assessed to meet the criteria including being victims of torture or violence, women and girls at risk and having physical or medical needs. Once this has been done they are brought to the UK for resettlement. However, it has been noted that many of those coming into the UK under the scheme are not especially vulnerable.
James Berry, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said: “We are relocating highly vulnerable refugees as selected by the UN. They are relocated to England and when it is safe to return it will re-evaluated if they will stay or not.”
Berry indicated he would be unwilling to take more than 50 refugees as he fears local services in the borough could become stretched.
The Conservative MP said: “20,000 is the target and if every principal authority took 50 refugees we would be fine. I think the question as to whether Kingston takes more than 50 depends on if Kingston has the kind of services that these people need.
“I’ve had quite a few emails, some saying ‘our services are already overrun, we can’t find housing, why are you giving these people housing.
“50 is a good number because it won’t swamp our services.”
However, Conservative Council Leader Davis refused to put a cap on the number of refugees the borough can take.
He said: “50 is not the cap. It all depends on how many people come forward to us. The more people that come forward with homes, the more we can offer to refugees.”
Campaign groups and charities have been leading the way to find accommodation for Syrians and many believe the UK has the infrastructure and resources to take more.
One of these campaign groups is Citizens UK. They want to see 10,000 refugees resettled here each year for at least the next two years.
Daniel Mackintosh, Citizens UK, said: “We are organising people across the country so we can build a long-term sustainable campaign. Local communities need to be involved in the welcome. We need people wanting to donate their time and their services, to be friends and to take people around. There are lots of opportunities to help.”
If you are a landlord interested in helping with accommodation please contact: David Hill, Kingston Council’s Accommodation Services Lead Officer on 020 8547 5412 or email firstname.lastname@example.org