To review the support and services provided to refugees in the Borough.
A requested update to the report submitted to the Committee on 8 November 2022 explaining the Borough’s response to refugees was before councillors for consideration.
In her introduction to the report, the Lead Councillor for Community and Organisational Development set out some relevant background information and thanked officers for their hard work to ensure that refugees living in Guildford received the support they required.
The Joint Executive Head of Community Services advised that the purpose of the report was to inform the Committee of the support given to refugees and to invite comments in respect of the services delivered.
The Council remained involved in supporting refugees through the following core schemes financially supported by the Government:
· Syrian Vulnerable People Resettlement Scheme (VPRS)
· Afghanistan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP)
· Homes For Ukraine Scheme
· Asylum Seeking Bridging Hotel (where people had claimed asylum and were awaiting a decision as to whether they would be allowed to remain in the UK as a refugee)
· Community Sponsorship
Each of the above was a different scheme led by the Government to support the refugee situation within the UK. The Council’s duty and involvement varied depending on the scheme.
Whilst the Homes for Ukraine Scheme was continuing and funded until 2025, the schemes to support refugees from Syria and Afghanistan were closing and had been successful in integrating the affected people into local communities with the assistance of the Family Support Team.
People occupying the Asylum Seeking Bridging Hotel managed by the Home Office had a different status from other refugees. The Council had expressed concern in response to the Home Office’s confirmation of plans to increase the amount of accommodation available at the Hotel, to cater for up to 196 refugees, by introducing some room sharing. This could create difficulties and increase demand for local services, particularly health and education, and ultimately place pressure on the housing market.
The following points arose from ensuing questions, comments, and discussion:
· People were accommodated at the Hotel whilst their applications for asylum status were determined. In the event that their applications were accepted, the occupants were evicted within 28 days and would probably present to the Council as homeless unless their allocated Home Office support worker could assist in this area. Those whose applications were unsuccessful were also likely to be moved with a view to deportation.
· The local community was supportive of the concept of the Hotel and its guests and wished to assist them where possible. In addition, the Council was working jointly with local partners including the health, voluntary and education sectors to offer support as many of the asylum seekers had suffered trauma and were experiencing both physical and mental health issues. Those assisting refugees could also be affected and were offered support where available.
· School age children residing at the Hotel were placed in the nearest schools on arrival, subject to school capacity, and appeared eager to attend. However, school transport and the associated funding could be an issue.
· The extension of the ... view the full minutes text for item 14
The Leader of the Council and Lead Councillor for Community and Housing introduced the item. She praised the Council teams involved in the refugee schemes and, drawing on examples from within the Borough, advised the meeting of the impact of the Council’s work on those being supported. In addition, the Leader of the Council and Lead Councillor for Community and Housing thanked those residents who had been able to help host and support refugees.
The Joint Executive Head of Community Services advised that the Council had become involved in issues relating to the bridging hotel in the Borough due to the hotel’s location and impact on the wider community. She indicated that further information on the funding from central government for the various refugee schemes could be provided at the meeting if members desired.
In response to questions, the Head of Regulatory Services advised the meeting of the challenge of finding accommodation for refugees under the Homes for Ukraine once the arrangement of Host and Guest ended. She informed the Committee that 34 refugees from Ukraine had moved into private rented accommodation and 19 had returned to their home country.
A member of the Committee queried the availability of mental health support for refugees and their hosts. In reply, he was advised of pressures on such services and of the need for Council staff to use referral pathways for mental health professionals or adult social care. With reference to the distribution of funding from refugee schemes, the Joint Executive Head of Community Services indicated that the NHS and Surrey County Council were aware of the demands experienced by districts and boroughs within the county.
A member of the Committee advised the meeting of the Mental Health Improvement Fund at Surrey County Council.
In response to a question asking about the greatest needs, the Joint Executive Head of Community Services spoke of the additional pressures on housing locally and of the value of adult social care support for those refugees who had experienced trauma.
In reply to a question about raising concerns with central government over the long-term transition funding within the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the Committee was advised of both the Council’s participation in the South East Strategic Partnership for Migration and the role of Surrey County Council’s Ukraine group in co-ordinating such concerns.
The Joint Executive Head of Community Services advised the Committee of the difficulties of both relocating refugees from areas in which they have settled and re-purposing accommodation.
In reply to questions, the Joint Executive Head of Community Services indicated that while much of the work required to respond to refugees had been absorbed by Council staff in housing, regulatory services, and family support, there were insufficient staff for this work and that recruiting to fill extra posts was difficult. She advised that the administration of elements of the refugee schemes could be as challenging as operational delivery.
The Joint Executive Head of Community Services outlined the tensions caused by the establishment of a bridging hotel ... view the full minutes text for item 29