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Syrian refugee victims of torture 'not supported' after arriving in Britain

Syrian torture survivors may not be receiving the specialist support they need after arriving in Britain as refugees, a report has warned.

More than half of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK are survivors of torture or violence during the country's civil war, the report by the influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found.

But it said "only a few" torture victims had been referred to specialist organisations for assessment and rehabilitation and only about a quarter of those needing mental health services had access to them.

More than 4,400 Syrians have been resettled in 175 council areas around the UK since ex-prime minister David Cameron's 2015 promise to take in 20,000 vulnerable people from camps in the region over the next five years.

But the charity Freedom from Torture said only a "handful" had been referred for treatment and its offer to assist on a bigger scale had "so far been overlooked by Government".

The charity backed the PAC's call for an urgent review to ensure victims of torture are identified and supported.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: "It is critical that such people receive specialist support.

"Our committee has previously highlighted the shortcomings in access to mental health services and we call on the Government to ensure a plan is in place to properly support refugees in need of them."

The report said the Government was making "encouraging progress" towards the 20,000 target. But meeting it in full would be a "significant challenge" and Government procedures for evaluating progress were "too vague".

Sufficient offers have already been received from local authorities across the UK to house all 20,000 of the expected arrivals.

But there was "confusion" about the full extent of support they were expected to provide, and some councils fear that the funding of £8,250 per refugee in the first year - declining the longer they are in the UK - will not be enough to cover the services they need.

Failure to provide clarity on these issues "risks the successful delivery of the programme", the report warned.

There have been warnings that the four hours of English language tuition the Syrians receive weekly during their first year "is not enough for them to properly integrate into or communicate with their local communities", and it was "not clear" whether an extra £10 million announced for classes will be enough, said the PAC.

The report said the decision to offer Syrians "humanitarian protection" rather than refugee status was preventing them from claiming some disability benefits and student finance or travelling abroad.

Some were suffering "undue stress" because of uncertainty over what would happen to them when the programme ended.

Ms Hillier said more work was needed to make the resettlement programme "sustainable in the longer-term".

The Government should set out "detailed plans" now or risk failing the refugees and undermining public support for the programme, she said, adding: "T here is a long way to go."

Lucy Gregg, senior policy adviser at Freedom From Torture - the only organisation dedicated to the treatment of torture survivors in the UK - said there were "serious gaps" in the process for identifying torture victims among Syrians arriving in the UK.

"Early identification of torture survivors and the provision of specialist clinical services are absolutely vital in ensuring that those being resettled can integrate into their host communities and are crucial to the long-term success of the programme," she said.

Immigration minister Robert Goodwill said the Government was "on target" to resettle 20,000 people.

"We have secured all the local authority pledges to reach our commitment, but the hard work across Government involving the devolved administrations and local authorities will continue until we have turned all of these pledges into firm offers," said Mr Goodwill.

"We are providing substantial financial support to help local authorities provide vulnerable refugees with a safe environment and a chance to build their lives."

Refugee Council director of advocacy Lisa Doyle said the resettlement target was "more than achievable".

"What's needed now is an acknowledgement that the global refugee crisis isn't going away any time soon and that a longer-term strategy for refugee resettlement is needed which clearly outlines roles, responsibilities, resources and an ambitious plan for welcoming refugees beyond 2020," she said.

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said: " Local authorities that have done the right thing by taking in refugees must be given sufficient funding and guidance, so they can help new arrivals integrate and build a new life.

"It is deeply worrying that vulnerable people who have experienced torture are not receiving the support they need.

"Unless the Government addresses clear problems with the resettlement programme, its already paltry target of 20,000 over five years risks not being met.

"Theresa May's scrapping of the Minister for Refugees, who oversaw the implementation of the 20,000 target, was a major step backwards. The Government must reclaim the lead on this issue and not simply palm off responsibility on local authorities."

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