A year ago, I proposed that Shropshire Council set up a working party to examine how the council should react to the Syrian refugee crisis. Days later, the then prime minister David Cameron announced that Britain would take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. The council’s cabinet agreed that Shropshire would take 60 Syrian refugees as its initial contribution towards the target.
We now have 33 Syrian refugees – “Syrian Salopians” as the Shropshire Star has named them – settled in Shropshire. We are now seeking homes for around 30 more over the next few months.
Over the last year, officers from the council and other agencies have been hard at work planning and organising the resettlement of refugees in the county. They are supported by the refugees working party, which includes councillors such as myself and Malcolm Price who chairs it. We are joined by officers from the police, fire and health services, and workers from Refugee Action, the charity that is supporting the refugees we settle here.
Recently, I counted 18 of us for a one-hour meeting. Did we need all those people? Yes, we did. This is a surprisingly complex operation. We need to ensure that arriving Syrians have housing, access to education and health services, and are able to receive the benefits they are entitled too. This county has little previous experience of working with refugees. We have benefited greatly from liaising with councils in the West Midlands and Wales.
The Syrian families coming here under the national Syrian Vulnerable People Resettlement Programme have the same rights and entitlements of UK citizens for a period of five years. We use Home Office funding to support them, not council taxes. Many Syrians who have arrived are already volunteering. Some are keen to set up their own businesses. They want to be part of our community not a burden on it.
Some of our first arrivals have been talking about their experiences to the Shropshire Star. These articles are not online but it is worth quoting from the Star leader column of 26 September.
“This county has an honourable record in welcoming refugees…
“For our new arrivals from Syria, we wish them well and hope they enjoy their new surroundings. They will find that this county has a warm embrace.
“We think of the borderlands of Shropshire as a land of peace and tranquility. Our Syrian Salopians will know better than anyone else how precious that really is.”
I take my hat off to those sentiments. They echo mine entirely.
We are now searching for suitable accommodation for a small number of refugees in Ludlow.
Shropshire Council is also taking care of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (USACs). We are supporting seven who have arrived in the county by various routes. Additionally, we look after three youngsters who first arrived in Kent as part of a national programme to ease pressure on that county. These children, generally teenage boys, have often been through extraordinary circumstances.
Many people might think we should take more refugees. I agree with them. We need to learn from our early experiences and expand the programme.
. Syrian vulnerable person resettlement programme fact sheet. The National Audit Office has recently warned that the government is unlikely to meet its target of taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.
. In Ludlow, we are looking for properties in the town itself, not in villages. Access to regular public transport is essential. We are not looking for casual lets or spare rooms. Shropshire Council is seeking to let properties that are a minimum of 2 bedrooms. They can be flats, houses or bungalows. They must be private rented and not social housing. The landlord must be willing to lease for a minimum of one year and ideally longer. The landlord would ideally allow Shropshire Housing Alliance or a similar body to manage the property. The landlord must be willing to accept benefits and the council can make payments directly to the landlord if required. Shropshire Council is unable to provide or act as guarantor. If you can help, please email me at email@example.com.