Syrian refugee resettlement project could cost around £1.7bn, says NAO

13 Sep 16

The UK’s resettlement programme for Syrian refugees could have a total cost of £1.7bn, the National Audit Office has said.

In a report released today, the spending watchdog said the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme, set up by the government in 2014 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, was generally being well-managed

The programme was scaled up in September 2015 when then prime minister David Cameron announced that 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees housed in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey would be resettled in the UK by May 2020.

The project then became the joint responsibility of the Home Office, the Department for International Development and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Earlier this month, the government announced that it had secured the 20,000 local authority places needed to honour its commitment. By the end of June this year, 2,659 refugees had been resettled under the scheme, which amounts to 13% of the overall target. 

According to the NAO, the programme team successfully expanded the original programme at speed to achieve the new target. An initial goal to house 1,000 refugees by Christmas 2015 was also met. The watchdog also found central and local government had worked well together on the project, and built strong partnerships with international organisations.

Meeting the target required an intense effort, the review stated, but had since been redesigned in order to be more sustainable.

However, the NAO’s highlighted that more refugees will need to be resettled each quarter during the remainder of the programme than have been so far. For this reason, it said it was essential that local authority pledges “materialise into firm offers of support”.

The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme report said the watchdog could find no existing estimate of the total cost of the project to the country. Based on its analysis, it estimates the cost will be around £1.7bn over the lifetime of the project.

Since it began in 2011, the Syrian civil war has caused a mass movement of Syrians within the country and to neighbouring nations. By June this year, according to the UNHCR, around 4.8 million Syrians were registered as refugees living in neighbouring countries. It is estimated that one in ten Syrian refugees in the region need resettlement elsewhere.

Commenting on the report, Meg Hillier, the chair of the public accounts committee, said local authorities should be applauded for “stepping up to help these people in desperate need.”                                     

However, she said that local authorities, which were already under financial pressure, will have to find over 10,600 childcare and school places, and nearly 5,000 homes over the course of the programme as well as social and community support services.

“We need to be convinced that the government is committed to supporting local authorities in their efforts and is clear about its expectations and funding beyond the first year of a refugee’s stay in the UK.”

Auditor general Amyas Morse, also credited the hard work of all the people involved in the project so far, and said the characteristics and needs of the refugees arriving in the UK would become clearer over time.

“With this new information, the programme team must adapt budgets so that no organisation taking part in the programme struggles to participate effectively due to cost pressures,” he added.

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