Work needed before welcoming refugees

Northumberland County Council has set up a multi-agency steering group to look at taking in refugees and asylum seekers.

Northumberland County Council has set up a multi-agency steering group to look at taking in refugees and asylum seekers.

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Councillors are very willing to accommodate refugees from Syria and elsewhere in Northumberland, but recognise that the right support structure needs to be in place.

Northumberland County Council’s discussed a report on the issue at its Tuesday meeting where it was agreed to set up a multi-agency steering group.

The Home Office has two distinct schemes with the first being general dispersal of asylum seekers and refugees, which is a contracted service with G4S to source accommodation and provide limited support.

The second is the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, through which placement arrangements are made directly with the local authority.

Unlike the first scheme, financial support is provided by the Home Office for the first year, ranging from £10,720 for a child aged under three to £23,420 for an adult benefit claimant.

Funding from year two onwards will not be provided by the Home Office, however, the Department for Communities and Local Government is in the process of agreeing rates.

Northumberland County Council is one of three authorities in the region – the others are Durham and Darlington – that have not previously been asylum dispersal areas as G4S has chosen not to identify accommodation, as opposed to the council refusing to offer support.

Coun Jeff Reid, who was involved in resettling Vietnamese people in the Blyth Valley area in the 1980s, said: “Although housing is going to be a problem, because we have got a shortage, in a way it’s the least of the problems as far as this is concerned.

“We can’t underestimate the amount of external help these people are going to need. We have to try to make sure there’s a base here.

“They will want to work, they will want to contribute and if there’s no opportunities here, they will gravitate to where the opportunities are.”

Coun Robert Arckless added: “The aspiration is there, but making sure it works will be a challenge.”