Vulnerable Syrians abandoned, warns Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees

By Matt Trinder
April 11 2020, 13.00

Refugees and asylum seekers are being abandoned because of the Covid-19 outbreak, a campaign group warned.

Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees (WWR) works with Wandsworth council and landlords to house displaced people through the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).

Coronavirus has seen most parts of the scheme suspended as borders around the world are slammed shut.

WWR chair Ellie Cusack said: “We are deeply concerned about the millions of refugees stranded in camps which are particularly prone to the spread of coronavirus. We must remember that it is a human right to seek safety.

“We are urging the government to reopen this route to safety as soon as possible with responsible and appropriate coronavirus testing,” she said.

OPEN BORDERS: WWR works to make Wandsworth a safe space for all Credit: Ellie Cusack

As part of the VPRS, the government works with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to identify individuals and families most at risk and bring them to the UK.

The scheme was launched in 2014 and has helped people requiring urgent medical treatment as well as children and survivors of violence caught up in the ongoing civil war in Syria.

A temporary suspension to all resettlement programmes was announced by the UNHCR on March 17 as Covid-19 spread, but with a call for states to continue resettlements in emergency cases where possible.

Eleanor Brown of Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers said: “We are calling on councils to ensure that refugees and people seeking asylum are fully included in all emergency plans, and for local organisations to work together in our responses.”

A Wandsworth Council spokesman said: “We take all our obligations seriously and will help all those in need regardless of their status.

“When this particular scheme is back up and running, we stand ready to meet all our obligations and responsibilities.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This country has a proud record of helping the most vulnerable, but in these unprecedented times the arrival of refugees is impacted by travel restrictions.

“We will resume resettlement arrivals as soon as conditions allow and continue to support the almost 20,000 refugees who have already arrived in the UK.”

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