Up to 90% of Syrian and other asylum seekers who make it to Britain face homelessness. Social landlords can offer advice, support – and homes.
When the plight of Syrian refugees made September’s headlines, housing organisations rushed to offer rehousing across Britain. But can they contribute to the government’s resettlement scheme and, if not, how else can they help?
Britain is not facing the same pressures as countries in southern and eastern Europe, nor has it taken on the massive responsibility for refugees accepted by Germany or Sweden. While much of the rest of Europe is compelled to deal with the refugee crisis because displaced people are simply turning up at its borders, Britain, an island, is still able to turn people back at Calais so that most never set foot on British soil.
This means their only chance to claim asylum is by entering illegally or overstaying their visas, or through the official resettlement scheme that started earlier this year. All Syrians arriving here are likely to have legitimate asylum claims simply because of the violent chaos engulfing their country; some 85% of claims by Syrians are approved (among the highest rates of any nationality).
Social landlords can help both those brought through the official scheme and those who simply arrive and make asylum claims.
The UN high commissioner for refugees has a worldwide resettlement programme from refugee camps that gives a permanent home to about 80,000 people each year. At 750 people a year, Britain’s contribution has never been more than 1% of the total, though it has resettled the victims of dangerous conflicts in countries such as Burma and Liberia, in cities such as Sheffield and Bradford.
The Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme is based on experience with these schemes and so far has taken 216 refugees; most have been housed in Bradford and Coventry. Bradford’s Horton housing association, which has worked with migrant communities for many years, has quickly become the most experienced social landlord at dealing with the Syrian crisis.
The government has announced the expansion of its resettlement scheme to cater for 20,000 refugees over five years, aiming to place the first thousand by the end of this year. But the scheme is moving slowly, despite dozens of offers from councils and from the administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Not surprisingly, the main obstacle is money: while the government is offering just one year’s financial support, cash-strapped councils are arguing for more, given that the scheme concentrates on vulnerable people who are likely to take longer to learn English and establish themselves in Britain.
The process is complicated. Prospective movers are identified by the UN high commissioner for refugees, vetted by government, then passed to one of the participating local authorities who can accept or reject them. If accepted they will be offered accommodation, which is where social landlords come in. They can make offers of help to the strategic migration partnerships operating in each region, but should expect to have to wait before the offers are taken up.
Housing providers can help Syrians and other asylum seekers in two ways. First, many fall through the porous safety net and end up destitute. All over the country, local voluntary groups co-ordinated through Naccom provide help through shared housing or “hosting” schemes (where people offer rent-free rooms in their homes). These groups are often looking for extra houses to use. For example, the Hope projects in Birmingham have several properties lent to them by housing associations. Several groups would welcome such offers; there’s more information on the strategic alliance on migrant destitution website or in the new Joseph Rowntree Foundation guidance.
Housing associations must also make sure they know about refugees’ housing rights and can advise those looking for accommodation, whether with social or private landlords. Unfortunately, the hardships that Syrian and other asylum seekers face do not end when they get accepted as refugees: they are evicted from their Home Office accommodation soon after getting their papers, and many end up on the streets. Without a fixed address, they find it hard to access benefits or get work. No longer eligible even for the minimal support given to asylum seekers, up to 90% face homelessness, according to the Refugee Council.
Given that asylum seekers are dispersed across Britain, almost every large town and city has people suffering in this way, desperately in need of social landlords’ help and support.
Original post and comments: Guardian Housing Network