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Wed, 30 September 2020

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The government cannot keep using Covid-19 as an excuse not to re-start the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme

The government cannot keep using Covid-19 as an excuse not to re-start the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme

If Priti Patel closes those routes, we will see an increasing number of refugees risking their lives in small boats crossing the channel, writes Kate Osamor MP. | PA Images

3 min read

We have a duty to help those who turn to us for safety, that's why I have written to Priti Patel urging her to restart the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and reaffirm the commitment to resettling at least 5,000 refugees a year.

In March, using the cover of Covid-19, the government paused the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and in doing so blocked off one the few safe and legal routes through which refugees can claim asylum in the UK.

But the conflicts and tragedies which lead thousands to turn to us for safety have not paused. It has therefore been inevitable that as the government has paused the VPRS, we have seen a big increase in channel crossings, which the Home Secretary has pounced on with dangerous rhetoric, attacking migrants and the lawyers who defend them.

The government now urgently needs to un-pause the VPRS. Since the scheme was announced in 2015, almost 20,000 people have arrived under it’s protection and have been resettled in this country.

When the government paused the scheme back in March, many other countries made similar decisions. However, while other countries have started to accept refugees through the VPRS again, our government has refused to restart it.

The Local Authorities and Charities who help to deliver the resettlement programme have said they are ready to resume and that there is no significant reason why we can’t begin to facilitate the safe arrival of refugees again. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

The government only seems willing to take the risks of Covid-19 into account when it allows them to pursue anti-refugee policies.

Evidently, the government is using this pandemic as a cover to pursue some of it’s long-held ambitions, whether that be cuts to Aid spending and the merger of DFID or a no-deal Brexit shielded by the pre-existing economic chaos caused by Covid-19.

It is no secret that Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have ambitions to aggressively bring down immigration of all kinds. But while the government used Covid-19 to block refugees from seeking safety in this country legally, they have continued deportations and continue to ask asylum seekers already in the UK to travel large distances across the country.

The government only seems willing to take the risks of Covid-19 into account when it allows them to pursue anti-refugee policies. Priti Patel seems uninterested in changing policy as a result of Covid-19 if it means making asylum seekers safer.

But now is not the time to turn inwards and isolate ourselves. Covid-19 is a clear demonstration of the need for global cooperation – the pandemic will only end when it is eradicated everywhere. We cannot afford to allow the government to use this as an opportunity to wash their hands of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

As a rich economically advanced country, we have a duty to help those who turn to us for safety and it benefits us to do so. That is why I have written to the Home Secretary urging her to restart the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and reaffirm the government’s commitment to ensuring resettlement of at least 5,000 refugees each year.

Refugees need a safe and legal route to our country when they flee persecution and conflict. If Priti Patel closes those routes, we will see an increasing number of refugees risking their lives in small boats crossing the channel and the government will have to bear responsibility for the inevitably tragic results.

 

Kate Osamor is the Labour MP for Edmonton.

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