David Cameron has bowed to growing international and domestic demands that Britain take in more refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war by indicating that the UK would accept thousands more refugees.
Final details of the numbers, funding and planned location of the refugees, were being urgently sorted out in Whitehall, with local councils insisting the programme had to be fully funded by central government.
People selected to come to the UK are likely to be drawn from the UNHCR camps on the border of Syria and not from Calais or other locations near the country. But the final number of refugees allowed in to the UK will amount to fewer than tens of thousands, well short of the numbers likely to be taken by Germany.
Downing Street officials acknowledged that Cameron had been moved to act by the scale of the gathering crisis as well as the change in the public mood brought to a head by the publication of heartbreaking pictures showing a Syrian boy drowned and washed up on a beach in Turkey.
Ministers insist the levels of British financial aid to fund the UNHCR-run camps has been as generous as any other country. But with a steady build-up of politicians, church leaders, council leaders and community groups urging the government to show greater humanity, Cameron signalled a change of tone on Thursday, saying: “Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities.”
Before details of the refugee plan emerged, Cameron, speaking at a Hitachi train plant in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, said: “Anyone who saw those pictures overnight could not help but be moved and, as a father, I felt deeply moved by the sight of that young boy on a beach in Turkey.”
Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, branded the refugee emergency a “wicked crisis” and said his heart was “broken” by the harrowing images of men, women and children fleeing persecution. He added: “We cannot turn our backs on this crisis. We must respond with compassion, but we must also not be naive in claiming to have the answers to end it.
Cameron faced pressure from some of his own backbenchers, including many Christians, to offer to do more. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also called for him to change tack. “We should take people fleeing persecution and those plainly in fear for their lives. London will, of course, face up to its moral responsibilities,” he said.
France and Germany called on the EU on Thursday to force member countries to take obligatory quotas of refugees and asylum seekers.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said, during a visit to Switzerland, that the French-German position represented a “sharing of duty … the principle of solidarity”. Shortly afterwards, François Hollande, the French president, said there should be a permanent and obligatory mechanism for the accepting of refugees. He carefully avoided using the word “quota”.
Tensions between EU member states have risen in recent days with 3,000 people camping outside the Keleti railway station in Budapest, hoping to be allowed to travel to Germany following its declaration that Syrians who reached the country would would be allowed to stay.
On the edge of the EU’s borders, Abdullah Kurdi, the father of the Syrian boy who was photographed lying lifeless on a Turkish beach after his family attempted to reach the Greek island of Kos, said he was preparing to take the bodies of his two sons and wife to be buried in his home town of Kobani.
Kurdi said he no longer had any desire to continue on his journey to Europe. Speaking outside the mortuary where the bodies of his two sons were being held, he said: “I just want to see my children for the last time and stay forever with them.”
The imminent new intake of refugees will be taken from the two million Syrians sheltering in border refugee camps probably under an existing Home Office vulnerable person relocation scheme set up last year and administered in conjunction with the UNHCR that resettles Syrians.
Only 200 have been taken by Britain so far under this scheme, although the government has given asylum or other forms of humanitarian protection to nearly 5,000 Syrians who have applied for asylum having reached Britain since the crisis started in early 2011.
Cameron said: “There isn’t a solution to this problem that is simply about taking people. We need a comprehensive solution; a new government in Libya. We need to deal with the problems in Syria. I would say the people responsible for these terrible scenes we see, the people most responsible, are president Assad in Syria and the butchers of Isil [Islamic State] and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people. And we have to be as tough on them at the same time.”
Downing Street is nervous of being seen to open UK borders or to be dragged into an EU-led scheme. It fears that a potentially “fickle” outburst of compassion, in part driven by news organisations, could obscure continued deep concerns about immigration among the British public.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, who has led the calls for greater government compassion, welcomed signs of a government change of heart, but said as many as 10,000 refugees should be accepted.
Harriet Harman, the interim Labour leader, called on Cameron to convene an emergency meeting of the Cobra cabinet committee to draw together the government response.
Cameron was accused by Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, of adopting a “walk on by on the other side” approach after he said on Wednesday that the UK would not take any extra refugees. Alex Salmond the SNP foreign affairs spokesman, said: “Cameron is shaming not just the UK, he is shaming humanity with his total abject refusal to accept any joint collective responsibility.”
Culled from: www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/03/cameron-bows-to-pressure-to-allow-more-syrian-refugees-into-britain