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Syrian crisis: Jersey's relief efforts

01 December 2015

The Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst, and the Chair of the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission, Deputy Carolyn Labey, have given details of the work that Jersey is undertaking to provide assistance to Syrian refugee families.

Through the Commission, Jersey has been supporting Syrian refugees since 2013. So far, the total sum of aid that has been provided is £1,000,000, with additional funds ring-fenced for disbursement in 2016. The Jersey funds that have been donated so far are being used in the Za’atari camp in Jordan, where tens of thousands of families are facing the prospect of an extremely harsh winter. The frontline relief efforts by the British Red Cross, UNICEF and Oxfam are being supported by these funds, specifically the provision of winter clothes and medicine, as well as longer term work on clean water and sanitation projects.

There have also been ongoing discussions with UK Home Office officials to establish whether it would be possible to resettle a number of Syrian refugee families in Jersey, via the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme. Jersey does not have its own procedures for asylum and is therefore reliant on the UK relocation scheme. This scheme would oblige Jersey to ensure parity with the provisions made in the UK, which would include immediate access to work, education and health services, as well as the provision of housing and benefits, or an equivalent income.

If Jersey were to make appropriate provision for this, either by using powers that exist in law, or by bringing forward new statutory provisions, it would present a significant risk because, under the European Convention on Human Rights, as enacted by the Human Rights (Jersey) Law 2000, one group of refugees cannot be treated differently to another. If Jersey were to make this provision only with Syrian refugees in mind, the Island would be vulnerable to legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination. This would mean that any refugee – whether or not they were Syrian – who was living legally in the UK and who entered Jersey could potentially, from their point of arrival, be entitled to the same special provisions.

A decision has therefore been reached that it would present too great a risk for the Island to house Syrian refugees through the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme. Jersey does not have the capacity to manage the impact on housing stock, public services and the work market that this might entail.

Senator Gorst said “The idea that so many children and their families are now facing the prospect of a bleak winter with little protection is one that weighs heavily on the conscience of the world. I know that many Islanders share this concern, and I am certain that they, like me, will want to make sure that any relief provided by Jersey is targeted at the areas of most extreme need. For this reason, I value the support that we have been able to provide so far through the Commission, and I anticipate a continuation of that support in 2016.

“I know that there has been an emotional and often divisive debate in the Island about the best ways in which we might be able to support those whose lives have been torn apart by the conflict in Syria, but I hope that the news of Jersey funds providing frontline relief in the camps in Jordan will be welcomed by everyone.”

Deputy Labey added “I am very pleased that Oxfam, the British Red Cross and UNICEF have been able to use the funds provided by the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission in the areas of greatest need. We have welcomed the feedback that we have had from these charities, telling us exactly how these funds are being put to use, and we have ring-fenced further funds for 2016. It is important that we continue to support the daily needs of refugees in the region, as well as the longer term infrastructural projects that will become increasingly necessary as the number of displaced people continues to grow.”

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