First Syrian refugees due in Falkirk next month

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The community is being urged to give a warm welcome to the first Syrian refugees who are shortly due to arrive in the area.

Last December Falkirk councillors unanimously agreed to accept those fleeing from persecution in the Middle East country,

With Scotland agreeing to take 2000 refugees, the local authority said it would accept three per cent – its percentage of the population – and up to 60 people could eventually be resettled here.

Three families have already been earmarked to become the town’s latest ‘Bairns’ and the 13 individuals, men, women and children, are expected to have moved into their new homes by mid-May.

Local authority officials are very much aware that in some parts of the country the arrival of the refugees became a media circus with many bewildered Syrians having to cope with a new life in a strange country while under intense scrutiny.

Falkirk intends to ensure that doesn’t happen here.

Jennifer Litts, head of housing services, said: “We’ve worked very closely with partners, including the health board, education services, the police and DWP, to make this as streamlined as possible.

“We had to initially identify where we had properties available and where there were places available in catchment area schools. Arrangements are also being made with Forth Valley College to get English language classes for the refugees who need them.”

She was keen to stress that it’s not a case of people coming to the area and taking homes from local people.

“These people have undergone stringent vetting. They are not asylum seekers but are part of the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme (VPR) because they are deemed at risk of violence or torture. They are no risk to national security.

“They are being treated like any other homeless person.”

In Scotland the process is being coordinated by the Scottish Government and CoSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities).

The UK Government has earmarked over £460 million of its overseas aid budget to cover the first years cost of the VPR. A further £130 million will be given to local authorities by 2019-20 to contribute towards the cost of supporting refugees beyond their first year in the UK.

However, the money can only be used to provide the basics, such as beds, chairs and cookers – not televisions or other items deemed luxury goods. But already the community is rallying round to provide home comforts, clothing and other items for the new arrivals.

The council is confident that Falkirk people will accept the refugees into the community, but will also be working with the newcomers to ensure that they also know what is required of them to be a good neighbour.

Ms Litts added: “We are keen to get the families settled and the children into school. Hopefully, the children will integrate quickly and the mums will meet other parents through the schools. This is one of the best ways for people to feel they belong.”

Fiona Campbell, the council’s head of policy, said: “We are pleased to be welcoming people to stay here and hopefully we have everything in place to provide them with support needed.”

However, the biggest boost for the refugees will be if they receive a warm welcome in the neighbourhoods where they are eventually housed.

Strict checks made before people attain status and a home in UK

Perceptions of refugees are varied and can be misguided.

In the UK, a person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the government.

Until a person is given refugee status they are classed as an asylum seeker – “a person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded”.

The families arriving in Falkirk have gone through the strictly controlled and complex UK asylum system.

The process is extremely stringent and the majority of claims are rejected. On average about 62 per cent of women’s asylum claims are rejected each year. However, in 2014, the courts overturned 28 per cent of negative decisions.

In the final quarter of 2014 there were 6710 asylum applications to the UK but 12 months later this had risen to 10,100.

However, once a person has been granted refugee status they have permission to stay for five years and their case can be reviewed at any time.

Although the UK numbers may seem large, they are in fact only the tip of the iceberg. The UK is home to one per cent of the world’s refugees.

Millions of people have fled Syria. There are currently 4.3 million Syrian refugees registered in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt with another half million expected by the end of this year.

Jordan has 1.4 million – 20 per cent of its population. The UK is three times the size of Jordan and refugees make up less than 0.5 per cent of the population.

At an emergency summit last September, Nicola Sturgeon vowed: “I will ensure that Scotland does everything possible to help this refuges crisis. And I pledge, as First Minister of this country, that we stand ready to help offer sanctuary to refugees who need our help.”

Many Scottish local authorities have already found homes for Syrian refugees, now it is the turn of Falkirk to extend a welcome and provide sought-after refuge.