By Maurice Wren
It was a truly outrageous government decision. Last month, the Refugee Council and other charities providing integration services to refugees received a letter from a team residing within the Home Office. It informed us that all the refugee integration services we fund via an EU grant programme would be cut immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
This contradicts all the assurances we received from government that the funding would be honoured. If enacted, the damage done to the lives of very vulnerable people up and down the country would be incalculable.
At the Refugee Council, we have used the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (Amif) to deliver high impact services aimed at preventing homelessness, destitution, penury, isolation, rootlessness, unemployment and mental distress. These are common dangers faced by refugees, even when they've been given a new life in the UK.
Our Amif grant is worth £2.6m. If it was to run its full course, it would enable us to support 3,500 refugees over the two years 2018 to 2020. But just as important as the money was the fact that the whole programme reflected the government's acceptance that it should be doing more to support new refugees. We had to lobby them into agreeing a dedicated refugee integration strategy in 2017. The Amif programme felt like a welcome indication that it was serious about its implementation.
Since we received our grant in October 2018, we have helped people secure decent and affordable accommodation for their families, access the therapeutic support that has enabled them to improve their mental wellbeing, and find jobs tailored to their skills and experience. In short, we've helped people whose lives were shattered to find hope.
We are still struggling to understand why the decision to cut these funds in the event of no-deal was taken. As a charity with extensive experience of providing government-funded services to refugees, we have never known any government department or agency to withdraw funding with no justification, at such short notice, and with no acknowledgement of the harm that will be caused.
The government has chosen to guarantee any EU funding that was obtained directly from the EU, but not to do the same for funding secured indirectly, in this case via itself. That means the Amif funding secured by the Home Office for many of its own refugee and migration functions will be safeguarded, while the same funding for charities supporting refugees is imperilled.
We've been told that responsibility for this dreadful decision lies with the Treasury. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the arbitrary and high-handed way we were informed about the decision, no-one in government has yet responded to our concerns, let alone tried to justify the decision. As a result we decided to go public with our outrage last week.
The response has been simply amazing. In just a few days, over 23,000 people have written to the chancellor calling on him to undo this disgraceful U-turn, including Dame Emma Thompson, Greg Wise and Joanna Lumley. We hope others join them. We need to ensure that the very people our government has promised to protect are given the chance to live safely in our communities with dignity and hope.
Maurice Wren is chief executive of the Refugee Council. You can support the charity's campaign for the government to reverse the decision here.
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