Cabinet pledges to do more to support refugees fleeing conflict

Our Cabinet is set to once again pledge its support for the resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers in Southend-on-Sea (Cabinet, item 10, Tuesday 8 November).

Civic Centre in Southend

In response to calls from central government, the council is set to renew its pledge for accommodating families under the United Kingdom Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) with the purpose of resettling vulnerable refugees in need of protection from a range of regions of conflict and instability across the globe (Cabinet, item 10, Tuesday 8 November).

It is proposed that, given the difficulties sourcing suitable, affordable housing within Southend, that a modest pledge of resettling a further two families is made as a higher number is unlikely to be achieved without significant changes to national policy, or significant local investment to supplement housing costs.

The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) has now been replaced by UKRS, and refugees from Syria are now eligible alongside a broader range of nationalities. To date under VPRS and UKRS, the council has resettled 7 families, 2 of whom now live independently in our city, after their 5 years on the scheme ended. In all, 34 individuals have been supported through this programme.

Afghan relocation and resettlement scheme update:

  • Park Inn by Radisson Palace, Southend-on-Sea is operating as a bridging hotel with capacity for up to 118 people. This provision is organised and contracted by the Home Office until December 2023
  • To date, 77 people have moved out of the hotel, either into accommodation elsewhere in the country or into settled housing locally
  • The council receives funding for, and has supported 193 Afghans in the hotel to date, including helping guests to navigate their welfare needs, helping with health screening, schooling and adult education, and supporting people to try and find suitable accommodation in Southend or other parts of the country
  • The council has settled 4 families (22 individuals) in Southend to date

Homes for Ukraine scheme (H4U) and Ukraine Family Visa Scheme (UFVS) update:

  • Through the national H4U scheme, set up by central government, there have been 135 Ukrainian arrivals in Southend, with 91 guests in hosted accommodation as of 14 October. Of these, 9 families to date have required temporary accommodation, a new host or alternative arrangements due to a placement breakdown. There have also been some families returning to Ukraine
  • Under UFVS, the council is aware of 24 Ukrainians currently living in Southend. Ukrainian guests are permitted to come to the UK and live with their families already resident in the UK
  • Local authorities do not receive any funding in relation to UFVS, nor do they have any role in administering this scheme. Due to the council’s lack of direct involvement, precise data relating to UFVS is not available

Looking ahead the council will work with local government partners and the Home Office to agree resettlement targets and asylum dispersal arrangements. Councils are required to take asylum seekers into their areas equivalent to 0.07% of the population and, for Southend, this equates to 131 people. To date there have been 174 asylum seekers into Southend. The government is currently negotiating with councils to take more asylum seekers.

At the start of the financial year, only around half of local authorities were participating in the programme, limiting the amount of available accommodation, and placing additional pressure on those areas who were participating.

Cabinet also intends to agree council support for partners across the city to pursue City of Sanctuary status for Southend. The benefits include access to a considerable network of other leading cities across the country and the many organisations active in those communities who provide inclusive and welcoming environments for refugees and asylum seekers.

Cllr Ian Gilbert, cabinet member for economic recovery, regeneration and housing and councillor lead for tackling the cost-of-living crisis, said: “These are challenging times. The council has worked extremely hard alongside local community and faith groups to support refugees arriving here from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere. In many cases people are here owing to government decisions that the council has no say over. I am extremely proud of how we have responded to this challenge.

“Lack of affordable housing is a huge constraint in Southend, and we must be realistic about our capacity to help. Nevertheless, we will be positive about supporting people fleeing war and violence.”

Published: 1st November 2022

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