Councillors will consider plans to offer homes to Syrian refugees at a special council meeting tonight (Tuesday, March 1).
Cllr Michael Stokes, leader of Rugby Borough Council, signalled the council’s support for the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (SVPRS) in September when the Government announced plans to expand it.
Under the expanded scheme, the Government has pledged to resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 and has earmarked £460 million from the overseas aid budget to help the statutory sector meet the costs of the first year of resettlement.
Local authorities who join the voluntary SVPRS also look set to benefit from a further £130 million in Government cash during the duration of the refugees’ five year humanitarian protection visas.
Since the council first registered its offer of support to the West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership, officers have been working with colleagues at Warwickshire County Council - who have responsibility for refugees’ social care and educational needs - and officers from Warwickshire’s other four district councils to co-ordinate a countywide response.
Under the SVPRS, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees refers cases to the Home Office after carrying out a number of checks.
The Home Office then conducts further screening of cases before granting a humanitarian protection visa and contacting a local authority which has signed up to the SVPRS.
A report to tonight’s council meeting recommends councillors support plans for the council to offer up to ten homes for Syrian refugee households by 2020.
The council intends to explore a variety of housing options to meet the commitment, including working with private sector landlords and housing associations in the borough.
Cllr Stokes said: “We made a commitment in September to play our part in the Government’s humanitarian response to the events in Syria, a commitment which reflected the concerns raised by many residents who contacted the council to offer help and urge us to support the relocation scheme.
“I am pleased we’re now in a position to deliver on that commitment.
“Working with our council colleagues and other statutory agencies across Warwickshire, we have developed a co-ordinated approach to ensure Syrian refugees receive the right care package on arrival, from housing to social care and education.
“As a council, we intend to explore all housing options to fulfil our commitment to the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, including working with housing associations and forging partnerships with private sector landlords.”
Pete McLaren, spokesperson for Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, said: “Whilst welcoming the proposal as small step in the right direction, we feel that the Government should provide additional funds to enable Councils to provide the accommodation needed by refugees. This would enable Councils like Rugby to compulsorily purchase and renovate unused properties, including shops.
“Such Government money is needed up front – now - not by 2020 as is being suggested: and it needs to be more than the £460 million being proposed.
“There is a national housing crisis. Over 70 Rugby households are in bed and breakfast or temporary housing waiting for permanent accommodation. Their needs must be met as well. It is a question of resources.
“The money is there. The housing crisis could be cured by a massive building programme financed by the taxation which wealthy individuals and companies avoid or evade. A 5 per cent wealth tax would also solve the problem.”