In its submission to the International Development Select Committee that was made public last week, the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief has warned that the UK government’s commitment to take 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from camps in Jordan, Libya and Turkey risks failing to ensure that the most vulnerable are included in the government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) Scheme.
Anecdotal evidence received by the APPG from a plethora of religious communities has indicated that some, due to their beliefs, are avoiding the refugee camps for reasons including fear of attack. In light of such evidence, the APPG recommended that an investigation be made into why refugees are avoiding camps but also to immediately broaden the definition of ‘vulnerable’, in appropriate circumstances, to include vulnerability on the basis of one’s beliefs.
Anecdotal evidence received by the APPG and highlighted in its submission to the International Development Select Committee indicates that Syrian refugees who are, at least, members of Syrian Christian, Sunni Kurd, Shi’ite, Alevi, Alawite, Druze and Yazidi communities are avoiding refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Reasons for their avoidance are, as thought by Open Doors UK & Ireland, to range from ‘fear of discrimination and further persecution to an attempt to hold onto the last shreds of dignity by renting an apartment, despite the un-affordability’. Given the complex contexts within which refugees now find themselves in both refugee camps and urban settings in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the APPG has urged HMG to ensure that these complexities are properly considered when deciding upon the vulnerability criteria for the VPR Scheme.
Recommendations made by the APPG in its submission include that HMG needs to recognise and act on the understanding that:
- Individuals who have left their regions of origin due to their religious identity or beliefs may have suffered from violence or torture and should thus be determined as vulnerable under the VPR Scheme. HMG should thus ensure that religious or belief minorities are included, on a needs basis, in the VPR Scheme.
- The focus in the VPR Scheme should not just be on children etc. but should include different religious or belief minorities due to their still being at risk of violence or other acts of persecution. If its own investigations also indicate as necessary, HMG should expand the current criteria of vulnerability to include minority religious or belief refugees. One religious or belief community should not be prioritised over others.
- Given the above evidence which suggests religious minorities may be avoiding camps, the current policy of resettling refugees from camps in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey may fail to reach the full demographic of vulnerable Syrian refugees as they are not necessarily a true representation of the most vulnerable Syrians.
- As the VPR Scheme progresses in this parliament, HMG does not limit it to vulnerable refugees of Syrian descent but extends it to especially vulnerable refugees from nations including Iraq.
On 4 November, Lord Alton and Fiona Bruce MP, accompanied by a delegation from human rights and aid organisations as well as the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, met a Government Minister and officials from the Department for International Development.
The delegation underlined the serious threat facing Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in the Middle East. They provided evidence of attacks on Christians and other religious groups who, having fled ISIS, have been driven out of refugee camps.
They argued that Britain must not target help for refugees in camps whilst ignoring the doubly persecuted. They also challenged Ministers to say how more than £1 billion of British aid in Pakistan – and 300 million Euros of aid to Eritrea – has been used to help persecuted minorities and to promote the provisions of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 insists on the right to believe, not to believe or to change belief – all of which are flagrantly denied in countries like Pakistan and Eritrea.