After the Taliban took control of Kabul and the majority of Afghanistan, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP announced a scheme to resettle Afghanistan citizens in the United Kingdom. This blog sets out how Scottish local authorities might implement the UK Government’s Afghanistan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) when it opens based on the experience of operation of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. SPICe covered the UK and Scottish Government’s response to the situation in Afghanistan, and the announcement of ACRS in a previous blog.
On 18 August 2021, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP announced the introduction of a new bespoke refugee resettlement scheme called the Afghanistan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS). This scheme is intended to help resettle Afghan citizens who remain in the region and will operate in addition to the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) for Afghan nationals employed by the UK Government in Afghanistan.
Shona Robison, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, indicated 22 local authorities had expressed an interest in taking part in ACRS on 14 September 2021. Some of the councils making public pledges to take part in the resettlement schemes include Dumfries and Galloway, East Dunbartonshire, Moray, and Glasgow.
Role of Scottish local authorities in resettlement
The UK Government operates three resettlement schemes in conjunction with the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, UNHCR. There are also bespoke schemes, like ACRS, that are introduced to support the response to specific humanitarian crises or protect at-risk individuals. The Syrian Resettlement Programme (or Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme) introduced in January 2014 (and brought under the remit of the UK Resettlement Scheme in February 2021) was one of these bespoke schemes.
The UK Government have indicated that some aspects (namely the processes for referral to the scheme and the funding allocations) of the ACRS resettlement scheme will operate in a similar way to the previous Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).
The VPRS scheme was introduced in January 2014 as a response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. The UK Government committed to settle 20,000 Syrian refugees by May 2020. The final refugees arrived via this scheme in February 2021 (the progress on reaching the May 2020 target was interrupted by COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020). It was described as a “national and voluntary” resettlement scheme for local authorities with a five year funding package. All 32 local authorities in Scotland participated in the scheme.
Local authorities interested in being part of VPRS could engage directly with the Home Office or through the CoSLA Strategic Migration Partnership. They were required to indicate how many resettlement places they could take in advance. CoSLA, as the Strategic Migration Partnership for Scotland, coordinated with the Home Office by identifying suitable resettlement locations with available housing and services for the family’s needs. The process of refugee referral and assessment by UNHCR and the UN International Organisation for Migration to resettlement in a Scottish local authority as part of the VPRS is shown below.
The Statement of Requirements and the annual Funding Instruction over the course of the VPRS scheme determined most of the local authority’s responsibilities and the terms under which funding would be available. These details for the upcoming ACRS scheme have not yet been released. Some of the main responsibilities across the timepoints of the VPRS scheme are summarised below.
The funding for the scheme was provided by the Home Office on a per capita basis. This was regardless of whether the person arrived as a single adult or as part of a family group. A local authority would receive a tariff of £20,520 tapered over 5 years for each refugee to support casework and other resettlement costs associated with the scheme. Additional education tariffs were allocated in the first year for school aged children between 3 and 18 years old. Similar to the announced funding for ACRS, an additional fund was available for VPRS cases with higher costs and more complex needs.
Role of Scottish Government in Refugee Integration
The Scottish Government’s current framework for directing and coordinating refugee integration is set by the New Scots Strategy for Refugee Integration 2018-22. The purpose of this strategy is to coordinate the actions of different partner organisations (e.g. local authorities and charities) that support refugees in Scotland.
The Scottish Government announced £2.8 million of funding for organisations helping to integrate refugees as part of the New Scots Refugee Integration Delivery Project on 19 March 2021. The Programme for Government 2021-22 also indicated this strategy would be updated beyond 2022:
“We will refresh and expand our New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy, and award £2.8 million in EU funding to new projects to spread good practices and support innovation under the outcomes and objectives of the Strategy.”
On 30 September 2021, the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture urged the UK Government to increase the number of refugees to be resettled by ACRS and provide more information on the opening of the scheme. The Cabinet Secretary also said this of the New Scots Strategy and the ongoing resettlement of Afghans by the ARAP scheme:
“As of 26 September, around 230 people in 61 families had arrived in Scotland across nine local authority areas under the relocation scheme for locally employed staff. In line with the key principle of the new Scots refugee integration strategy, local authorities are working to support their integration from day 1 of their arrival in Scotland. Partnership and collaboration are central to the new Scots approach.”
Role of the Parliament in upcoming Afghanistan resettlement?
Despite resettlement being a reserved policy area and the limited available details on the ACRS scheme thus far, many aspects of the scheme are likely to fall within devolved policy areas. The Scottish Parliament debated the situation in Afghanistan on 02 September 2021, and agreed, by division, a motion which recorded “its alarm at the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Afghanistan.”
Given this motion and the public concern for the situation in Afghanistan, it is likely that the Scottish Government’s preparedness for refugee integration and their support provided to local authorities, education, health boards and other public services as part of ACRS resettlement will continue to be of interest to MSPs.
Courtney Aitken, SPICe Research