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What has Jersey done for Syria's refugees

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TEMPERS flared in a heated public meeting in October 2015 when Islanders spoke passionately about whether or not Jersey should take in Syrian refugees.

The Town Hall meeting, which was attended by about 200 people, was called after Chief Minister Ian Gorst said that the Island could accommodate five or six Syrian families.

Above: Around 200 people attended a meeting at the Town Hall in 2015 concerned with the migrant crisis.

However, in December 2015 the minister announced that Jersey would not open its borders to refugees because if the States made special provisions for Syrian refugees they would not be able to treat any other group differently, on the grounds of discrimination.

Unlike the UK, Jersey does not have a written procedure to accept asylum seekers. This means that anyone eligible to claim asylum who reaches Jersey would be referred to the UK Home Office, where their claim could be processed.

Why has Jersey not housed any Syrian refugees?

Speaking in 2015, Senator Gorst said that if the Island wanted to resettle refugees via the UK relocation scheme then Jersey would be obliged to ensure individuals would have immediate access to work, education and health services, plus access to housing and income support.

Although the States could find ways to make that happen, either by using powers that exist in law, or by bringing forward new statutory provisions, Senator Gorst said that by doing so it would present a significant risk because, under the European Convention on Human Rights, Jersey could not treat one group of refugees differently from another.

Following on from the anouncement in 2015, Senator Gorst says that he has not had any further discussion with the UK government about the Vulnerable Persons Scheme.

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'I think conversations around refugees will continue in small communities like Jersey and I would always encourage people to have these conversations and think about the options,' he added.

'There is no doubt the migration crisis is going to continue to be a political and a community issue for years to come. Europe is changing all the time and now the UK are leaving Europe, that is going to continue to be difficult.

'The war in Syria shows very little sign of stopping anytime soon.'

In 2015 Jersey Overseas Aid provided £650,000 to aid agencies working with Syrian refugees in Jordan. This year the funding increased to more than £1.5 million.

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Senator Gorst said: 'We have historically given lots of money to the camps where refugees are based around Syria. Some members of the public were really positive when we said we might house refugees.

'Some thought it was the most extraordinary thing the government had talked about for decades. But lots of people thought sending money was the most appropriate thing we could do. We then had every range of view in between.

'We had to protect our borders and we don't want to be seen as an easy route to the UK.

'On a human level the right response is to let vulnerable children in but on a government level this was not right. We didn't send any money to Calais because we don't want to be seen as encouraging people to travel through the borders and across Europe. It is very dangerous and it is not appropriate for us to be seen to be supporting that. We don't want any vulnerable people to become more vulnerable by travelling through Europe.'

In a direct response to the crisis, in December 2015 a pay-roll giving scheme was introduced by the States to make it easier for employees to donate money to charity.

The scheme allows employees to make a weekly or monthly donation directly from their salary and although it can be used to support any charity it was initially set up to support the thousands displaced by the war in Syria.

To date no-one has opted in to the pay-roll scheme.

How has the Jersey Overseas Aid supported Syrian refugees?

To date JOA have provided £1.5 million to aid agencies working with Syrian refugees. JOA allocates States money to deserving causes abroad. The commission decide what to fund making sure Jersey's contribution makes a difference to those being supported.

Last year JOA provided funds to the British Red Cross, which used the money to buy winter provisions and food to those living in Syria. The Red Cross are the main provider of humanitarian relief across Syria. Jersey's contribution helped to give vital assistance to more than 50,000 people.

Jersey money was also sent to UNICEF to provide emergency assistance in Lebanon. There are more than one million Syrian refugees registered as living in Lebanon, which represents a quarter of the country's population.

JOA has also provided funds to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Syrian Emergency Fund. The fund sends money directly to urgent projects inside Syria.

Deputy Carolyn Labey, chairwoman of the JOAC, said: 'Jersey should be proud of joining virtually every other developed country in the world in providing assistance to alleviate immediate suffering and prevent additional displacement of people.'

In the first instance, the money JOA provides is emergency funding which is allocated to countries where immediate loss of life is threatened.

Deputy Labey said: 'In the case of the migrant crisis in Europe, commissioners decided that the greatest humanitarian need – and the greatest impact – is found in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. We feel that carefully-chosen support in these countries will not only save lives, but may prevent more people from making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to end up in places like Calais.

'This is not to belittle the needs of refugees already in Europe, nor the efforts of individuals and organisations who help them, but JOA takes the view that its own contribution is best targeted upstream of this.'

What do people in Jersey think?

Although the decision has been made for Jersey not to house any refugees, there are some Islanders that would like to see more done.

Jersey Cares: Refugee Aid Group was established to directly support those in Calais, and now Paris. JCRAG initially travelled to the Calais 'Jungle' once a month taking aid and supporting volunteers working within the camp. They have now taken their efforts to Paris after the 'Jungle' was demolished last October.

Islander Natalie Strecker, co-founder of the Jersey Palestine Solidarity group, said: 'It's morally reprehensible that as an Island we chose to turn our backs on refugees and history will rightly condemn us for this stance.

'We are one of the richest communities in the world and we benefit from being part of the international community. We ought to recognise that this relationship ought to be reciprocal, where we don't just benefit from the prosperity it brings but we share responsibility for the issues in the world and the refugee problem is not going anywhere.'

However, Alan Ferguson, founding member of Jersey's Friends in Israel group, said the Island would need to make sure adequate facilities are in place before any refugees were welcomed.

'Jersey's response to the refugee crisis brings with it many political and moral dilemmas but a response on a purely emotional basis will do no favours for the refugees, the local population or indeed the world as a whole,' he said.

'I believe that Jersey first of all needs to have systems and facilities in place to provide adequate housing, schooling and jobs within a caring society to encourage integration together with the facilities to provide and support migrants to have English as a working language, together with the available back-up services to deal with physical, mental and emotional trauma.'

Above: Around 200 people attended a meeting at the Town Hall in 2015 concerned with the migrant crisis.

Islander Mark Baker attended the Town Hall meeting in 2015 and said that Jersey would be putting itself at risk of a terrorist attack if we were to welcome refugees.

His views have not altered in the intervening months. 'Jersey is small Island and it cannot take the risk of possible terrorist attacks,' he said.

'We have provided an awful lot of financial support but there are still certain people who keep trying to force the conversation and try to get people from the Middle East into Jersey.

'We have a small community police force in Jersey. We have no army and no secret service. If we welcomed migrants and things went wrong there would be no way to manage it.

'It was a very precarious situation in the Calais "jungle" with a lot of concerns around the women and children living there. That situation has now spread across parts of Europe and we couldn't let that happen in Jersey.'

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