In a press release issued on the 13th November Powys County Council announced that it would be accommodating approximately 12 Syrian families in Ystradgynlais and Newtown. The first 5 or 6 families would be arriving in Ystradgynlais before the end of July 2016 and the second group would be accommodated in Newtown at a later point in time.
The Syrian refugees who’ll be coming to Powys are ordinary families, who led ordinary lives in their home country of Syria before it was torn apart by a brutal civil war in which 220,000 people have lost their lives (of which half are estimated to be civilians) and 11 million have become homeless and more than 4 million are refugees living in other countries. The refugees have lived for a number of years in countries such as Jordan and the Lebanon, before being classified as vulnerable persons by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
A person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the Home Office, or if they are granted refugee status on humanitarian grounds. The Syrian refugees have been given their status on humanitarian grounds and are entitled to work and to claim benefits, the same as UK residents.
We are looking to accommodate families with children in Powys, rather than childless couples or single people.
The UK Government has committed to resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. All local authorities in Wales will be supporting the resettlement of refugees and this will include Powys. The Syrian refugees will be part of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme and have 5 years humanitarian protection.
The refugees have been supported to come to the UK because they have been identified as being among the most in need of support according to criteria drawn up by the United Nations. This means they may be women or girls at risk, survivors of violence or torture, have legal or physical protection needs (for example they may be at risk due to their political views), they may have medical needs or disabilities, be children or adolescents at risk, they may be at risk due to their sexual orientation or gender identity or they may have family links with the UK.
Whilst the refugees were in the country they fled to following the start of the civil war in their country they have been screened by the UNHCR who have identified them as vulnerable people. In addition as part of this process they have been interviewed and received security clearance from the Home Office. It should also be borne in mind that the Syrian refugees who have fled their homeland have also fled a brutal civil war and that they are seeking safety and sanctuary for their families.
Whilst the arrival of Syrian refugees in Powys comes at a time when the council is facing reductions in its budget, all the costs of accommodating Syrian refugees and assisting them to integrate into the local community will be met by the UK Government, using money from the foreign aid budget. Local people will not lose out because of the arrival of Syrian refugees.
Powys County Council will arrange housing (which will be paid for by the UK Government) but the refugees will come with very few personal belongings. Whilst many areas of Powys experience high levels of need and demand for social housing, this is generally for smaller property types, rather than larger family homes.
The communities of Ystradgynlais and Newtown have been selected as host communities for Syrian refugees because in both communities demand for larger family housing is not particularly high. In addition they have been selected because there are places available in local schools, into which the children of Syrian refugees can be placed.
Before the civil war Syria had a population of approximately 23 million people and was a developed and secular nation whose economy was based on agriculture and the oil industry and whose population was well educated.
The majority of the population (74%) are Sunni Muslims. 12% of the population is made up of Alawites, a sect of Shia Muslims. Despite being a minority, Alawites have dominated the government for decades. About 10% of the population is Christian, and another small percentage is made up of Druze, a mystical religious sect with elements common to several monotheistic religions.
Whilst Arabic is the predominant language spoken in Syria although about 9% of the population speak Kurdish. In addition Armenian and Turkmen is also spoken by sizeable Armenian and Turkmen minorities.
Syria was a former French colony and its education system is based on the French model.