Following the statement from the Prime Minister last week that Britain will take in a greater number of Syrian refugees through the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme, my Conservative colleagues have put together proposals to be debated at tomorrow’s Executive meeting which set out how Woking Borough Council intends to meet its responsibility to grant a safe haven for those fleeing the war-torn Middle East.
The war in Syria has by recent international standards been extraordinarily brutal, with ethnic cleansing, chemical and biological weapon attacks and the indiscriminate bombing and targeting of civilians, with entire cities being destroyed. While all sides in the conflict have engaged in human rights abuses, it has become clear over the past few years that the Assad regime is guilty of horrendous crimes. Although there is an understandable reluctance for the UK to enter into another Middle East conflict, there is nonetheless a clear moral imperative for the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to do everything it can to end the suffering.
The suggestion is that Woking could provide accommodation and support for 12 Syrian families a year over the next five years, with the scheme to be reviewed annually to check it is still appropriate. Those eligible for settlement will be identified and security checked by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and be brought to the country directly from camps in Syria, rather than those who have crossed into Europe illegally. Special priority will be given to the most vulnerable and deserving cases, such as victims of torture or unaccompanied women and children.
All local authorities have a duty to set out how they will contribute to the effort to support an increased number of refugees. In my view, the plans set out by the Executive strike the right balance between showing generosity and compassion while also ensuring that we do not put a strain on infrastructure or exacerbate waiting lists for housing and other local government services.
Many people have contacted the council to ask what they can do to be of assistance, such as offering a spare room or volunteering to foster orphans. I would urge anyone who wishes to host a refugee family to contact Surrey County Council as they will be able to provide more information about what can be done to help.