Ten more Syrian families could be resettled in Somerset in the next 12 months – but they are likely to be the last.

The government has been running the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme to help deal with the impact of the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria and the wider Middle East.

Around 20,000 Syrians will be resettled across the UK, along with people of other nationalities who have been impacted by the conflict.

Somerset County Council has helped 26 families since 2016 (some of whom have since left the county) and has confirmed that it expects a further ten in the coming year.

But these ten families could be the last group which it helps, with the scheme announced by then-Prime Minister David Cameron due to finish in 2020.

Dr Orla Dunn, a public health consultant, gave an update to the council’s children and families scrutiny committee in Taunton on Friday (October 19).

A total of 26 Syrian families have been resettled in Somerset since March 2016 under the government’s resettlement programme.

Of these, six arrived between March and September 2016, with ten arriving in the each of the following twelve-month periods.

Of the 26 families originally accepted, three have left Somerset – two from a desire to live in a more urban environment, and one because of marriage.

A further two families have been resettled in Somerset under other schemes – one non-Syrian family under the government’s vulnerable children’s scheme, and one family who reside in Somerset but are supported by Dorset County Council under its own scheme.

Of the ten families resettled between November 2017 and September 2018, four of them have been housed in Taunton Deane, three in Mendip, two in Sedgemoor and one in South Somerset.

Dr Dunn clarified that the entire cost of the resettlement programme – including English language lessons – was being met by central government, rather than the county council’s budget.

She said: “The government has picked up the whole of the tab, so we are operating completely within the funding envelope provided by the Home Office.”

Each family which arrives in the UK is subject to “tapering” support from central government – in other words, the level of central funding slowly decreases as they become better integrated and use local public services, including schools and hospitals.

Dr Dunn said good progress was being made to ensure that new arrivals were in work and gaining new skills.

She said: “At the time of the national survey of 2017 arrivals (carried out in April 2018), 17 per cent of Somerset arrivals (male and female aged over 16) were in work, compared to five per cent of the South West cohort and three per cent nationally.

“Since that point, of our ten families who have been resettled for more than six months and are considered available for work (i.e. not signed off sick), six now have a working member and another two have a member who is volunteering with a view to strengthening work skills.

“This is a massive achievement given that many, on arrival, have had little English, and we thank many employers who have been particularly flexible, understanding and supportive of our new starters.

“We are continuing to develop our links with local employers and to support the families towards employability.”

Dr Dunn admitted there had been incidents of racial abuse and physical violence directed at these families, all of which have been reported to the police.

She praised Avon and Somerset Constabulary as being “very proactive” on the matter, and said that work was being done to avoid placing new families in known “trouble areas” across the county.

She added: “We endeavour to support the families with this process. We need them to understand how unacceptable this behaviour is, and it must always be reported, and we are working to build up their often shattered confidence to re-engage in their local area.

“As the funding tapers in later years of resettlement, we consider it important to look at establishing more sustainable provision which will be able to endure beyond the end of the resettlement programme and provide a legacy of support for wider integration and if possible to widen support for all refugees to Somerset.”