By Tom Esslemont
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One third of local authorities in England, reeling from years of austerity cuts, are not prepared to house any Syrian refugees, a media report said on Thursday, following a UK government pledge to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020.
Official data shows that more than 1,800 Syrian refugees have been housed in Britain since last September under a government scheme to resettle some of the most vulnerable refugees living in camps in countries neighboring Syria.
But local councils have only committed to providing accommodation for 8,000 Syrians so far, with 53 of the country's authorities not offering to take in any, the Local Government Chronicle, a trade magazine, reported.
"Some councils were worried that funding offered by government would not be adequate to cover costs to cope with the new arrivals," an LGC spokesman said.
Britain, like many Western countries, has come under repeated pressure to take in more Syrian refugees, with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) conceding it is battling widespread fear and political wrangling to rehouse them.
More than 4.8 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt to escape a war that has killed more than 250,000 people since 2011 and left 13.5 million inside Syria in need of aid.
Local authorities in England had shown a "tremendous amount" of goodwill and would continue to find ways to rehouse Syrians, a Home Office (interior ministry) spokeswoman said.
"Some ... authorities have not resettled people in the initial phases of the scheme, but will be resettling people in the future," the spokeswoman said.
Since 2010, the British government has favored spending cuts to reduce the deficit with local authorities particularly hard hit by the belt-tightening measures, analysts say.
With refugees unevenly spread across Britain, some councils such as Northamptonshire in central England, are already struggling to cope with a rise in asylum seekers, the LGC said.
"Northamptonshire county council was not in a position to make an offer (to take in Syrian refugees) due to existing pressures, including ... high numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeking children," the LCG quoted council leader Paul Blantern as saying.
Two London boroughs said they were unable to take part in the resettlement program under any circumstances because of the pressure it would have on their services, the LGC reported.
England has taken the lion's share of Syrian refugees who arrived in Britain between October 2015 and March 2016, accepting around 900 people, government figures show.
Wales resettled 78 Syrian refugees, Northern Ireland has housed 51 and Scotland accepted more than 600 in the same period, the data showed.
The northeast of England, one of the country's more deprived regions, has pledged to resettle 815 Syrians, while London, a city of 8.6 million people, has vowed to take in just 521.
Responding to the data, councils and their support body, the Local Government Association, said they were still convinced targets on Syrian refugees could be met.
"Local government continues to stand ready to help those who need it, with the vast majority of councils already settling unaccompanied children and children in Syrian refugee families," said David Simmonds, chair of the LGA's refugee task group, in a statement.
(Reporting By Tom Esslemont @tomslmont, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)