No se­cu­rity threat from new ar­rivals, says min­is­ter

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY MAR­CUS DYSCH

THE HOUSE of Com­mons’ mem­bers’ tea room over­look­ing the Thames feels a long way from the hor­rors of Raqqa, Aleppo and Da­m­as­cus.

But as Richard Har­ring­ton eats a slice of cake in the re­fined sur­round­ings of West­min­ster, the des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion in Syria is fore­most in his mind.

He is the min­is­ter charged with co-or­di­nat­ing the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the refugee cri­sis and has spent the past two months criss-cross­ing the coun­try, making ar­range­ments with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties for the ar­rival of thou­sands of Syr­i­ans.

The Wat­ford MP was ap­pointed in Septem­ber af­ter the im­ages of the body of three-year-old refugee Ay­lan Kurdi washed up on a Turk­ish beach shocked western Europe and brought the cri­sis to the fore­front of po­lit­i­cal and pub­lic in­ter­est.

Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron an­nounced that 20,000 refugees from Syria would be ad­mit­ted to Bri­tain by May 2020. The first phase will see 1,000 ar­rive by the end of the year, with the other 19,000 spread out across the next four and a half years be­fore the

Richard Har­ring­ton talks with Syr­i­ans in Brad­ford. He says he is proud of Bri­tain’s role in tak­ing in refugees next gen­eral elec­tion. Around 100 — the largest group so far — ar­rived in Glas­gow on Tues­day.

The pace and scale of the project has been crit­i­cised by those who would like to see Bri­tain take in as many refugees as Ger­many — per­haps more than 100,000.

But the at­tacks in Paris have raised con­cerns about the pos­si­bil­ity of Is­lamist ter­ror­ists mas­querad­ing as refugees to en­ter Europe.

A YouGov poll this week re­vealed that 49 per cent of the pub­lic now be­lieved that Bri­tain should be ac­cept­ing fewer or no refugees — a 22-point in­crease since Septem­ber.

But Mr Har­ring­ton said he was sat­is­fied with the UN and Home Of­fice checks on the refugees en­ter­ing the UK.

“This isn’t just a ques­tion of first c o me, f i r s t served — th­ese p e o p l e a r e se­lected care­fully based on their vul­nera b i l i t y, ” he ex­plained.

“It’s all done by the United Na­tions’ High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees. All refugees are reg­is­tered, with baro­met­ric eye test­ing, and in­ter­viewed.

“They have to meet one of seven vul­ner­a­bil­ity cri­te­ria — women who have been raped, peo­ple in spe­cial dan­ger, fam­i­lies who have suf­fered par­tic­u­larly badly in the fight­ing. If they get through that, they are health and se­cu­rity checked be­fore they come to this coun­try. It’s not some­thing we’d rush.”

He said: “There are a lot of tests that can be done to see if the in­for­ma­tion they give us about where they came from and how they be­came refugees is gen­uine.

“But the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple we take are fam­i­lies — peo­ple who have been dis­pos­sessed for some time. They have not just come straight from Syria — they’ve been in main­land Europe. They’re not peo­ple that we don’t know any­thing about.”

Al­most 50 au­thor­i­ties around Bri­tain have of­fered to re­house Syr­i­ans, and plans are in place for the refugees to be set­tled as quickly as pos­si­ble as per­ma­nent res­i­dents.

“It’s all pre-or­gan­ised so we know where ev­ery­one is go­ing,” Mr Har­ring­ton said. “Prop­er­ties will have been rented for them from the pri­vate sec­tor, not so­cial hous­ing stock.

“At the lo­cal com­mu­nity cen­tre they get a brief­ing, an in­tro­duc­tion, a Syr­ian meal and there will be dis­cus­sions about chil­dren go­ing to school, proper med­i­cal as­sess­ment.”

Many of the refugees ar­riv­ing here are from the rel­a­tively af­flu­ent mid­dle classes — the ed­u­cated Syr­i­ans who could af­ford to pay their way out of the coun­try — and will come with pro­fes­sional skills, as well as am­bi­tions to re­turn home to a re­built Syria. That prospect re­mains a con­sid­er­able way off, Mr Har­ring­ton ad­mit­ted.

But he is un­con­cerned about the prospect of the refugees en­coun­ter­ing ha­rass­ment in the more ru­ral ar­eas where they are sent to live. The “good­will” shown by the coun­cils tak­ing them will over­come prob­lems, he pre­dicted.

“It’s good for the small com­mu­ni­ties to have Syr­i­ans. Re­mem­ber th­ese are places that want them. It’s amaz­ing how many small coun­cils are happy to take two or three fam­i­lies and see how they go. We are work­ing to har­ness this avalanche of good­will.”

Fu­ture phases could see refugee fam­i­lies twinned with Bri­tish coun­ter­parts who would in­tro­duce them to the lo­cal area, help them in­te­grate and pos­si­bly even lead them to job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

There is an­other di­men­sion to the ea­ger­ness with which the min­is­ter is un­der­tak­ing his work — his own fam­ily’s Jewish im­mi­grant back­ground.

Mr Har­ring­ton’s fa­ther’s an­ces­tors ar­rived­inBri­tain­whenOliv­erCromwell al­lowedJew­stoescape­fromtheS­pan­ish In­qui­si­tion. His ma­ter­nal fam­ily were vic­tims of Rus­sian and Pol­ish pogroms and ar­rived in the 1890s.

“Both my grand­par­ents were born here. But their par­ents weren’t. Jewish peo­ple feel a spe­cial affin­ity to the refugee cause. The fact th­ese peo­ple are from Syria isn’t the point. The sim­i­lar­ity is that they have been kicked out of their homes be­cause of their re­li­gion or eth­nic­ity.”

Mr Har­ring­ton, who is a mem­ber of Wat­ford Syn­a­gogue, high­lighted the Jewish com­mu­nity’s re­ac­tion to the cri­sis and ac­knowl­edged the re­sponse to World Jewish Re­lief’s Syria ap­peal, which has raised more than £700,000.

Lead­ing Jewish fig­ures, in­clud­ing Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil chair­man Sir Mick Davis and Re­form Ju­daism’s se­nior rabbi Laura Jan­ner-Klaus­ner, have ap­proached Mr Har­ring­ton to dis­cuss what more can be done. The for­mer Con­ser­va­tive Friends o f I s r a e l c h a i r m a n said: “Jewish peo­ple par­tic­u­larly feel t h a t wha t they’ve been through in the past — their grand­par­ents and great-grand­par­ents — means they have a duty to try to help the least for­tu­nate in the world. I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of what this coun­try is do­ing and within that what a rel­a­tively small Jewish com­mu­nity is say­ing.

“I’m very con­scious of the fact that for the peo­ple I meet from Syria while do­ing this job, I’m prob­a­bly the first Jewish per­son they’ve ever met. I had a good ses­sion with some refugees in Brad­ford. One of them had read on Wikipedia that I was Jewish. He said: ‘I’m very pleased to meet you, I’ve never met a Jewish per­son’.

“Peo­ple will say Bri­tain should be do­ing more. Some will say we should be do­ing less. I say Bri­tain is do­ing what it is. The crit­ics tend to see this as a one-off and not part of the big­ger pro­gramme. It’s not some po­lit­i­cal ploy… What we are do­ing puts many coun­tries to shame, it really does.”

All refugees are reg­is­tered, with baro­met­ric­eye test­ing, and in­ter­viewed Jewsin par­tic­u­lar feelthat whatthey’ve been­through means­they­have adu­ty­to­help

PHOTO: TIM SMITH

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