First Syrian refugees arrive in UK
The first group of Syrian refugees has arrived in the UK under the Government's scheme to take in some of the most vulnerable victims of the conflict.
Several hundred Syrian arrivals are expected to come to the UK over the next three years under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme.
Home Office officials refused to confirm how many refugees had arrived in the UK today but the first group is reportedly around 10 to 20 individuals.
Following pressure from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and some Tory backbenchers, the Government dropped its previous opposition to admitting refugees directly from the region.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said: " I am pleased to confirm that the first group of Syrians have now arrived in the UK.
"We believe this VPR scheme will make a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable Syrians by giving them protection and support in the UK.
"We also remain committed to providing regional support to those affected by the crisis.
"We have donated £600 million to the relief effort so far, making the UK the largest bilateral donor after the USA."
The first arrivals come eight weeks after the Home Secretary announced details of the VPR scheme, which is operating in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Syrian refugees admitted under the scheme will have all rights and benefits that go with "humanitarian protection" status, including access to public funds, access to the labour market and possibility of family reunion.
A number of local authorities have already signed up to support the relocation scheme, the Home Office said.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the UK has received around 3,800 Syrian asylum seekers.
The next group of refugees are expected to arrive in April.
Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said: "Today marks an extremely significant watershed in the UK's response to the humanitarian catastrophe gripping Syria and the surrounding region.
"The arrival of the first refugees for resettlement will transform, if not save people's lives.
"The Government has insisted from the outset that this programme will be needs rather than number-based, so it's disappointing to hear that it will only support several hundred people over the next three years when the ongoing need is clearly colossal.
"Over 2.5 million refugees have now fled the conflict and as a result, UNHCR is now calling on governments around the world to help resettle 130,000 people over the next three years.
"We hope the UK Government will be bold and ambitious in its response to this call and encourage other countries to act similarly. The world must not turn its back on Syria's refugees."