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Refugees in Jersey: Minister opposed to release of FoI documents

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JERSEY’S External Relations Minister is still opposed to documents on refugee resettlement being put in the public domain despite the fact they were released following a three-year freedom of information battle.

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Campaigner and former Guernsey politician Tony Webber fought to have communications between the Home Office and Crown Dependencies made public.

Deputy Webber’s battle involved a series of complaints and tribunals, which were significantly advanced when Jersey intervened to stop the documents being made public.

Senator Ian Gorst, who was instrumental in the efforts to block the documents, said his position had not changed and that the documents should not have been released to the public, arguing that it was in ‘no one’s interest’ for these papers to be revealed.

He said: ‘I was opposed, and remain opposed, to the release of communications between two governments.

‘Frank and honest political discussion of sensitive issues is essential, and there are good reasons why correspondence of this nature is not made public.

‘It is in no one’s interests for decisions to be made with an eye to outside interests, press coverage or pressure groups.

‘I supported the efforts of the Home Office to preserve the confidential nature of these documents and I have not changed my views.’

Mr Webber said last month it was a scandal it had taken so long to get the documents made public.

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Within the released documents, a consultation paper for the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme sets out requirements and funding for the scheme.

It detailed how sponsoring organisations would be needed to enter into an agreement with the UK government, and how sponsors would be expected to cover upfront costs normally incurred by the local authority.

A sum of £200 would be required per person and there would be a need to provide accommodation and also to arrange access to a doctor and school registration.

The document also shows that in October 2015, a representative for Jersey sent a series of questions to the scheme to obtain further information for ministers.

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It was asked what would be needed for Jersey to provide employment, health and housing, the minimum number of refugees that would be required and what services would need to be provided.

Following correspondence with the resettlement team, the government stated it would put together ‘an indicative package of what Jersey could offer’.

In December 2015, then Chief Minister, Senator Gorst said Jersey would not be taking any refugees because special provisions for refugees would leave them ‘vulnerable to a legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination’.

The current Chief Minister, John Le Fondré, has now said that the Children’s Services Department was not in the right state to take in child refugees.

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