United Kingdom

The broader context (2011-14)

Total asylum applications by Syrian nationals


Percentage share of total Syrian asylum application submitted in European countries (EU and EEA)


Syrian asylum applications per capita


Recognition rate


Humanitarian aid for Syria and neighbouring countries


Percentage share of humanitarian aid contributed by European countries


 The UK is the second largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, after the United States. Although the 2013 UK annual resettlement quota programme received Iraqi refugees from within Syria, the UK government was initially reluctant to allocate resettlement places for Syrian refugees, stating that humanitarian aid was a more effective way to address the crisis.

In response, a coalition of civil society organisations led by the British Refugee Council engaged in sustained advocacy for the UK to create admission places for Syrian refugees.  Following a parliamentary debate in January 2014, the UK government announced the Syria Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS), an ad-hoc programme for vulnerable persons from Syria.  The VPRS is independent of the UK’s annual resettlement quota programme, the Gateway Protection Programme (GPP), which receives 750 refugees each year.  The VPRS is 'needs-based' - no specific quota has therefore been set, and the government has stated its intention to admit 'several hundred' people during 2015-18 years.

The VPRS prioritises cases falling into 3 submission categories - victims of violence and torture, women and girls at risk, and those in need of urgent medical care.  In theory places within the programme are allocated equally between these 3 categories, although in practice cases selected to date have tended to fulfil more than one of these criteria.  Selection is based on UNHCR referrals from Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, using the expedited HAP form (see Chapter ?).  IOM provides pre-departure medical assessments, assistance with obtaining travel documentation, coordinating travel (including i-flight support) and pre-departure cultural orientation.

Persons admitted via the VPRS are granted 5-year residency and humanitarian protection status on arrival.  Although not recognised as refugees, reception conditions are the same as for those recognised as refugees in the UK, including eligibility to access social welfare, permission to work and access to family reunification. Permanent residency can be applied for after the initial 5-year period has expired, should the situation in Syria not have stabilised.

Municipality participation in the programme is voluntary. In many cases, reception and integration of persons admitted under the VPRS is modelled on existing GPP structures and partnerships. As GPP refugees, VPRS arrivals are received directly into independent housing in municipalities, and receive 12 months specialised reception and integration support.

The first group of persons selected under the VPRS arrived into the UK in March 2014. The pace of arrivals has since then slowed significantly, with just 143 persons accepted under the scheme by March 2015. In a November 2014 open letter to the UK government, NGOs criticised the rate of arrivals as ‘woefully inadequate compared to the scale of the crisis’ and urged the government to admit larger numbers.[1]

[1] 'The Independent 'Charities' open letter to David Cameron: We applaud British aid to Syria, but aid is not enough' (26 November 2014)


31 945
Syrian Applicants: 
2 160
Syrian Recognition: