The new British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing mounting criticism for scrapping the role of minister for Syrian refugees, which was created last year to oversee the relocation of Syrian refugees to the U.K., in a move signalling the new government is weakening an already poor refugee policy in line with Brexit anti-immigration promises.
The move was subtly orchestrated, with May reassigning Richard Harrington from under secretary of state for Syrian refugees to junior minister responsible for pensions.
The decision has angered many across the country and lawmakers on the left and the right of the political spectrum.
According to the Independent newspaper, the Liberal Democrats claimed it showed refugees would be treated worse than they had been under former PM David Cameron, while conservative lawmaker Heidi Allen said the move was “not a great start” for May.
"Under Cameron, the Liberal Democrats faced an uphill struggle to force him and his party to take in the most vulnerable refugees—unaccompanied children. It looks like their fate and the fate of millions of other vulnerable refugees seeking shelter and security will be even worse under May,” the party’s leader Tim Farron said.
The move comes almost a month after most of the U.K. voted to leave the European Union after the “leave” camp ran an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee campaign.
Hate crimes against refugees and immigrants in the U.K. hit an all-time high after Brexit.
Aid organizations also slammed the decision by the new government. The Refugee Council’s head of advocacy Lisa Doyle said, "What's more important than reshuffles and rhetoric are the concrete steps and action the government takes to make a practical difference to refugees' lives.”
She added that scrapping the Refugee Ministry role shows that the government is backtracking on its promises to do more for humanitarian causes and specifically for refugees.
"There is certainly an urgent need for the government to stick to its word that it will take a more holistic approach to refugee protection and integration going forward; at the moment too many people are falling through the gaps and are left facing homelessness and hunger while different departments refuse to take responsibility for them.”
The U.K. has so far accepted 1,000 of the 20,000 relocation slots promised for Syrian refugees by 2020 under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme which was approved by Cameron’s government last year.