There has been plentty of lively discussions in the pubs and clubs of the Borough of Barnet about the issue of Asylum seekers, refugees etc. Barnet Council are debating this next week, and have published a report detailng exactly how many refugees and asylum seekers taxpayers are supporting in the Borough. I thought that the readers of the Barnet Eye may be interested in the various schemes which the Borough is participating in. I have to admit that I was unaware of much of this information. To give you some idea of the scale, there are 395,839 (2019 census) in Barnet. by my maths, this means that approx 0.25% of our population are refugees or asylum seekers being supported by the taxpayer. Not quite the 'overwhelming' number some people are claiming.
1. Why this report is needed
1.1 Barnet is enhanced by the contribution of a range of diverse communities and this diversity has made Barnet a place of attraction for those who seek to settle in the UK. The council has worked to make sure that Barnet is a welcoming borough and so, over the last five years, we have co-ordinated several resettlement schemes to welcome and support those who have been displaced.
1.2 This report will provide an update on the work that Barnet Council continues to do to support refugees and asylum seekers. In addition to this, following a council motion to become a Borough of Sanctuary on 24 January, this paper will outline the future of this work towards accreditation.
1.3 Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme
1.3.1 This scheme has now ended but under the scheme, the council facilitated the resettlement of 50 individuals since 2017. During this time, the council commissioned Barnet Homes to source accommodation and provide wraparound support for the families through a Refugee Resettlement Coordinator. This support included healthcare, education, social network, and financial stability; both benefit entitlement, and support securing and sustaining employment.
1.3.2 As part of this scheme, the council set up the VPRS Grant Scheme. Through this scheme families could apply for a grant of up to £5,000 to enable them to access the labour market or education, improve language skills or engage in activities that increased their sense belonging within the community. In October 2022, the council agreed to use this grant to cover the cost of citizenship for those on the scheme who wished to apply. So far, the council has received 10 applications for this and processed 8 of them.
1.4 United Kingdom Resettlement Scheme
1.4.1 The VPRS scheme was closed to new arrivals in February 2021, at which point it became the UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS). Under this scheme, the UK will offer a safe and legal route to vulnerable refugees in need of protection globally. In June 2021, the council pledged to take on 12 individuals under this scheme, but the resettlement of Afghan refugees has taken precedence.
1.5 Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy
1.5.1 There are two resettlement schemes for people who have fled Afghanistan:
1. Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) – an agreed scheme to make ex gratia offers to eligible locally employed staff (LES) who were made redundant as a direct consequence of the UK’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Those on this scheme have indefinite leave to remain and can apply for British citizenship after five years in the UK.
2. Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) – this scheme provides a route to safety for those put at risk by events in Afghanistan and will resettle up to 20,000 people at risk because they are vulnerable (women, girls, LGBT) or assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan.
1.5.2 All those brought to the UK under ARAP and ACRS have the right to work, access to education and healthcare and will be able to apply for public funds. Funding for both schemes provides coverage for health, education and integration support costs up to £20,520 per person over a period of three years.
1.5.3 The council made a pledge to resettle five families under this scheme and, to date, has supported the resettlement of two Afghan families under the ARAP scheme and two under the ACRS scheme. The council has a remaining pledge of one family. One of the key challenges of this scheme and fulfilling the pledge has been the lack of suitable accommodation for families on this scheme, who often require larger (4-5 bed) households. To address this, the council is one of several London boroughs that have signed up to the “Find Your Own Accommodation Pathway” which means that the council agrees in principle to provide wraparound support to individuals on the ACRS who find their own private rented accommodation in the borough.
1.6 British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa
1.6.1 The BN(O) via scheme is part of the UK government’s response to China’s failure to live up to its international obligations in with respect to Hong Kong and offers those ordinarily resident in Hong Kong a route to settle in the UK to live, work and study. The visa is being offered with a lower fee than other visas and provides a 5-year route to citizenship if they meet requirements and British Citizenship 12 months after settlement. With a Chinese population of 9,343 as of the 2021 census, Barnet has one of the largest Chinese populations of any London borough. It also has one of the highest rates of Cantonese speakers in the UK. It is reasonable to expect that this figure has continued to grow since the 2021 census was carried out.
1.6.2 The council has worked closely with Barnet-based wellbeing charity Meridian Wellbeing and the New Citizens Gateway to support the integration of Hong Kongers. This has included supporting Hong Kongers through providing health and wellbeing advice and support, hosting monthly Welcome Parties, and providing socialising opportunities for newcomers. In January 2023, in partnership with Meridian Wellbeing, the council submitted a bid for £30,000 in funding from the Greater London Authority to support a 6- month project aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of Hong Kongers in Barnet. This includes a series of mental health workshops, fitness classes and socialising opportunities. In addition to working with Meridian Wellbeing to provide wellbeing support, the council has, in partnership with Barnet & Southgate College, facilitated the delivery of ESOL classes to 71 individuals on this visa so far. There will be another round of classes taking place in spring 2023.
1.7 Homes for Ukraine
1.7.1 The local authority is responsible for the administration of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme – this scheme enables Ukrainians to come to the UK and stay for a period of three years, being entitled to full benefits, and allowed to work. This scheme allows for individuals to ‘sponsor’ to gain approval to accommodate an individual or household from Ukraine. As part of this scheme, the council is responsible for data sharing, carrying out sponsor checks (accommodation, DBS verification and safeguarding), education provision, service referrals, support with work and benefits, homelessness assistance and community integration.
1.7.2 Central government has provided local authorities with the following funding: • £200.00 “welcome” payment for each Ukrainian • £10,500 per person to councils on first year • £500.00 “thank you” payment to sponsors • Additional funding for education services
1.7.3 So far, Barnet has welcomed 988 Ukrainians through this scheme which is overseen and co-ordinated by the Strategy and Engagement Team with support from Environmental Health inspectors, Barnet Homes inspectors, HR, the Children's Safeguarding and MASH Team and Finance. The council is also co-ordinating several initiatives to support the integration and independence of Ukrainians settling in Barnet on this scheme: Housing: - Working with Barnet Homes to develop a package to incentivize landlords to consider renting applications from Ukrainians. This will prevent guests from presenting as homeless and reduce the pressure on temporary accommodation services - Currently procuring BEAM, an innovative project that supports refugees, to carry out a project to support Ukrainians into the private rented sector. Employment and Education: - Working with BOOST to look at how the council can work with Ukrainians to transfer their skills and qualifications so that they are able to work here - Working with Barnet and Southgate College to provide ESOL classes - Supporting employment via our dedicated Ukrainian employment officer who provides support with accessing employment and CV writing Integration: - Running a Facebook group to bring together guests and build social connections between them - Using financial reserves to create an integration grant that we can pay directly to families to support their journey to independence (for example, accessing a course) - Employing a Ukrainian welfare officer, located in Colindale, who provides a one stop shop to help with interpretation and accessing services
1.8 Asylum seekers
1.8.1 Barnet is home to five hotels being used to accommodate asylum seekers before dispersing them into accommodation. These hotels are located across the borough and as of 18 November 2022, there were 1108 individuals across the four hotels – this is a rise from 901 the year before.
1.8.2 Since November 2021, the council has used Covid emergency funds to commission New Citizens Gateway and Persian Advice Bureau to provide outreach support in hotels. This support includes access to a range of activities, drop-in advice sessions, advocacy support and ESOL classes. Family services also run an onsite Stay and Play session for under-fives in the Colindale site on a weekly basis. In March 2022, the Strategy and Engagement Team recruited an Asylum and Refugee coordinator to administrate this support and manage the VCS commission.
1.8.3 There is currently no funding available from central government to provide support to asylum seekers in hotels, however the Home Office is currently carrying out a New Burdens Assessment which will look at the funding models for local authorities who support asylum seekers. This is a cost data-gathering exercise that will enable the Home Office to better understand the new burdens placed on local authorities because of the Full Dispersal Model and will be used to inform future funding arrangements.
1.8.4 The Covid emergency funding used to commission the outreach support provided to asylum seekers in the hotels will run out at the end of financial year 2022-23. For the coming financial year, a review of existing service budgets will be undertaken, and services will be re-procured to reflect available funding. It is still the intention of government to decommission contingency hotels as soon as possible, so the need for ongoing funding beyond this is not certain.
1.8.5 To support the council’s work in supporting asylum seekers in hotels, Barnet is also one of eleven local authorities taking part in a GLA funded initiative called the Asylum Welcome Programmes Design Lab. This programme brings together local authorities to develop and trial pilots in their borough to support asylum seekers.
1.9 Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children
1.9.1 Young people aged under 18 who enter the country seeking asylum are classified as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) and must be looked after by the children’s social care services. As of 1 January 2023, there were 55 UASC in our care. This compares with 72 UASC looked-after on 31 March 2021. Barnet is currently supporting 131 former UASC (18+), this is 41% of the current care leaver cohort. Between June 2022 and December 2022, the LA received 12 UASC via the National Transfer Scheme. Within this cohort, 2 children were accommodated by the LA with a family member. Since January 2022, the LA has received 4 referrals from the police in relation to UASC in police protection, of these one was a missing child returned to another LA. Three UASC also self-presented in the LA area.
1.9.2 Barnet is currently participating in a pilot scheme which seeks to provide UASC with provision for their substantive asylum interview to take place in a safe, secure and young people focussed setting, avoiding the need for the child to travel to the HO, typically Lunar House. For Barnet UASC, where possible, interviews are now taking place at the O&U Leaving Care Hub in North Finchley.