To reach the 20,000 refugee target promised by former PM David Cameron back in 2015, councils up and down the country have agreed on accommodating “suitable numbers” of Syrians fleeing the devastation of war through the voluntary Syrian Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme. For three North East councils, that suitable number is zero.
It follows heavy mainstream criticism of the country for its comparatively low number of refugees given asylum in the United Kingdom. Local Authorities are under pressure, standing accused of not pulling their weight.
After a further appeal by the government, several North East local authorities have agreed to take in Syrian families since December 2015, including Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland and Durham.
Sunderland, South Tyneside and North Tyneside councils have not.
The Home Office consented that Sunderland City Council does not need to house refugees because “it would not be appropriate to add more pressure to local services,” said a Sunderland City Council spokesperson.
Through Freedom of Information requests, SRNews found out how many Syrian refugees each of the North East local authorities have taken in since the summer of 2015.
Sunderland’s lack of participation with the scheme comes after a series of the council’s failings in its Children’s Services, which deemed it incapable of taking on refugees.
An Ofsted report revealed “serious and widespread failure”. As a result, the department has this year been taken over by experts from other local authorities and charities.
Niall Hodson, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Milfield and Thornholme, campaigned for Sunderland to take in Syrian refugees over the summer. He said: “The council has not been forthcoming when asked the reasons why Sunderland is not doing anything. Obviously because it’s a bit of a mark of shame on our council – that its social services are so bad that it can’t help.
“It reflects badly on the city. Both the situation with children’s services in Sunderland and our stance on refugees is a bit of a badge of shame.”
With the demolition of the Calais ‘jungle’ this month by French authorities, the people left stranded include an estimated 100 young people sleeping rough and 1,500 homeless “unaccompanied minors”.
However, despite the pressure, Sunderland City Council maintains that it “has no plans to accept any at this time.”
“Basically, reading between the lines of what the council said is the message that we aren’t capable of looking after our own so we shouldn’t be taking on anybody else,” added Coun Hodson.
The Ofsted report said that the Children’s Services “leave children unsafe and mean that the welfare of children looked after is not adequately safeguarded or promoted”. All areas of the department in the report were summarised as “inadequate.”
Ofsted also highlighted that children and young people from ethnic minority groups accounted for six per cent of those living in Sunderland, in comparison to the 22 per cent in the country as a whole.
Furthermore, it revealed that 25 per cent of local authority’s children live in poverty.
Out of the North East councils, South Tyneside and North Tyneside also do not have plans to accept refugees through SVPRS. South Tyneside Council said that there is “currently no target in place” to accept refugees and with no further comment.
“The local authority attitudes is patchy. It varies from different local authorities,” said Dr Mohamed Nasreldin, Director of North of England Refugee Service.
He added: “In the past, the support came from the central government for refugee integration. That’s no longer the case and I appreciate that the local authorities face massive cuts but without the right support, they may have a problem in the future.
“The sooner they support the settlement of refugees or integration of refugees, the faster they are going to integrate and contribute to the local community and the economy.”
He explained that some parts of the region may have reached the maximum percentage of refugees in the local community. In other parts, there is still probably some leeway for extra refugees.
According to the Office for National Statistics, Tyne and Wear has the smallest number of ethnic minorities in its population.
However, Dr Nasreldin expressed that there is no lack of will to help from communities in the North East.
He said: “Our telephone has never stopped ringing with people wanting to support refugees and there are people who collected food and clothes and took them to Calais, France.
“With the right kind of support, the refugees can integrate into the community very easily.”