Ashford will continue to welcome desperate refugee families displaced by Syria’s long and bloody civil war, despite the fact that the current government-organised Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) is ending.
Ashford Borough Council’s cabinet heard that the government was amalgamating all its refugee resettlement programmes into one, called the Global Resettlement Scheme (GRS), to continue beyond 2020.
Under the old VPRS programme, Ashford welcomed 34 families totalling 146 refugees over a four-year period, with the most recent arriving in the Kent borough last October. Ashford has resettled more vulnerable families from war-torn Syria than any other district in Kent, and across the South East outside of London.
Councillors voted to continue to play an active part in the national commitment to planned refugee settlement under the new Global Resettlement Scheme, opening the door to more Syrian families desperate to make a new life away from their stricken homeland.
Cabinet was told that while refugees resettled under GRS can be drawn from anywhere in the world, participating councils can request refugees from cultural backgrounds they are best placed to support. Therefore, Ashford is proposing to continue to support families with Syrian origin as the council has the expertise and existing infrastructure already in place to best support their successful resettlement.
Councillors voted to extend the planned resettlement of refugees in Ashford to offer a new beginning for up to 50 people (approx. 10 families) each year under GRS, subject to the availability of suitable private rented property.
They also agreed to continue the development of projects and infrastructure to enable successful integration and promote community cohesion to benefit the wider Ashford community.
The resettlement schemes are fully funded by the Home Office so there is no major financial burden on participating councils. Ashford Borough Council decided from the outset not to use any social housing – easing any fears that refugees would jump the queue of those on the housing waiting list. Syrian families are in private sector accommodation and continue to contribute positively to the communities in which they have found new homes.
Ashford has been very successful in supporting refugees into employment. More than half the families now have at least one family member in paid employment. Of those available for work, over 40% have secured paid employment with the rest undertaking volunteering and work experience. This is much higher than the figures nationally (3%) and regionally (11%).
Dedicated training has been provided in partnership with Concept Training in Ashford. This combines English language learning and workplace skills, including awareness of UK employment and health and safety legislation. Provision at Concept began with a course intended to improve employment prospects and has now expanded to include courses accessible for those with childcare responsibilities for pre-school children.
Cllr Bill Barrett, Ashford Borough Council portfolio holder for housing, said: “I believe we are making an enormous difference to the lives of some of those most affected by the global refugee crisis. It’s important that we carry on this good work and I fully support our continuing efforts to provide this assistance, welcoming vulnerable families into our communities.
“I thank all those private landlords who have already helped and would also like to encourage others to offer suitable properties they may have in support of this project.
“The support from the residents of Ashford, third sector and voluntary organisations and community and faith groups continues to be key to enabling successful integration. The response has been humbling and heart-warming and I’m confident that these strong community bonds will continue to develop.”