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Secret Syrian refugee scheme letters released

Secret Syrian refugee scheme letters released

Friday 21 June 2019

Secret Syrian refugee scheme letters released


Previously 'secret' correspondence relating to discussions between the Crown Dependencies and UK government over how to handle the Syrian refugee crisis has been released - in heavily redacted form - following a three-year dispute between an ex-Guernsey politician and the UK Home office.

The 58-page document – some of which has been redacted due to being ‘out of scope’ – covers exchanges between the Resettlement Gold Command, the Syrian Resettlement Programme team, and the Crown Dependencies that took place between October 2015 and 3 February 2016.

Former Guernsey politician and self-styled 'Freedom of Information campaigner' Tony Webber first made his request for the release of correspondence relating to the Crown Dependencies’ discussions over how to handle the Syrian refugee crisis, under the UK Freedom of Information Law in 2016.

However government officials from Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man warned that doing so would set a “dangerous precedent” by giving members of the public the right to an eye over all of their “sensitive” discussions with the UK.

The UK Information Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of disclosure, leading Government of Jersey officials – and other Crown Dependency representatives – to push the UK’s Immigration Minister to appeal in August 2018.

In March 2019 it was announced that the Home Office and Crown Dependencies would not be allowed to appeal– something hailed by Mr Webber as a “victory for open and transparent government”.

computer email

Pictured: The emails were exchanged between October 2015 and early 2016.

Most of the messages focus on the different participants trying to organise meetings or calls.

The document also includes a consultation paper for 'Community Sponsorship' and local authorities for the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme, which lists requirements, process and funding for the scheme.

It states that “sponsoring organisations” will be required to enter into an agreement with the UK government to set out the responsibilities and expectations.  

In the ‘Costs’ paragraph, it mentions sponsors would be expected “to cover those upfront costs normally incurred by the local authority.” This includes accommodation, initial provision of £200 cash per person, English language tuition, as well as assistance in registering for schools and access to doctors or benefits.

The document also lists requirements for the accommodation, what steps the sponsor will be expected to take to welcome the family and help them establish a like in the UK. 

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Pictured: Jersey sent a list of queries about the scheme in October 2015.

The messages show that in October 2015, a Jersey government representative sent out a series of questions on the scheme, aiming to obtain more information for Ministers.

The queries included whether Jersey would be required to provide housing, employment, social security and health, the minimum number of refugees they would be required to receive to make resettlement a “workable experience”, and what resettlement services would need to be provided.  

Following a call with the Resettlement Team, the government wrote they would put together “an indicative package of what Jersey could offer.”

In November 2015, the Law Officers’ Department contacted the Syrian Resettlement Programme team asking them to organise a “a lawyer-to-lawyer” conversation to discuss “certain immigration matters.”

The then Chief Minister Ian Gorst announced on 1 December 2015 that Jersey would not be taking in any Syrian refugees because it could open a legal backdoor to other refugees to flood into the Island. 

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Pictured: The Chief Minister said in March that that Jersey’s Children’s Services and Mental Health Services were not in the right position to deal with the complex needs of child refugees.

While Jersey's position hasn’t changed, the reasons for it have.

In March 2019, following a visit by Lord Dubs, the Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré told the States Assembly that Jersey’s Children’s Services and Mental Health Services were in a very poor state, and not in the right position to deal with the complex needs of child refugees - even a small number. 

"This assessment was endorsed by the Minister for Children and the Children’s Commissioner," a spokesperson for the Government said. "The focus is now on improving Children’s Services, and when this has been achieved the position can be reconsidered."

Meanwhile, Jersey Cares Refugee Aid Group (JCRAG) – a local charity which supports refugees - is still pushing for a scheme to be developed in Jersey.

The group hopes to raise public awareness about the thousands of people fleeing their homes around the world during this year’s Refugee Week, which started on Monday and runs until Sunday 24 June with the theme: ‘You, me and those who came before'.

JCRAG are asking islanders to do something to raise awareness of refugees, whether it is finding out a fact, taking an interest in the work of JCRAG, or donating as little as £1 to a refugee charity.

Laura Ridley chairperson JCRAG

Pictured: Laura Ridley, the Chair of Jersey Cares Refugee Aid Group.

The charity's chair, Laura Ridley said: “Refugee Week is an opportunity for us to highlight the work we do, not only in Jersey, but around the world raising awareness about the many terrible situations refugees face on a daily basis.

“We are asking Islanders to just do one simply thing during Refugee Week to raise awareness. It could be as little as reading an article, or donating some warm clothing to many of the charities supporting those currently displaced.”

The charity has also recently called on the Chief Minister to look again at the option of Jersey welcoming a small number of refugees, something they have called islanders to support via an online petition.

Ms Ridley added: “We would also urge anyone who hasn’t yet signed the petition calling on the States of Jersey to welcome a small number of unaccompanied children to jersey to do so.”

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