UK will not join UN resettlement plan for Syrian refugees

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Home Office Minister Mark Harper has defended the government's decision not to sign up to a UN programme for resettling Syrians, arguing that it has only a "token impact".

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper drew attention to the UK's stance on asylum for Syrians by tabling an urgent question.

She branded the government's position "shameful", observing that following the Commons' rejection of military intervention: "All sides were adamant we had even greater moral obligation to provide humanitarian support in this desperate conflict."

But Home Office Minister Mark Harper, replying for the government on 20 January 2014, emphasised: "Beyond immediate humanitarian assistance our priority must be to help neighbouring countries provide sustainable protection in the region.

"This should be our focus rather than resettlement or providing humanitarian admission to Syrians, initiatives which can only provide very limited relief and only have a token impact on the huge numbers of refugees."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dems' foreign affairs spokesman, responded angrily: "Are we really saying we cannot take a few hundred of those who have suffered most? Or are we now so intimidated by Ukip that we have abandoned our humanity?"

The minister, referring to UK support for a Unicef relief effort, insisted: "It's better to help tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands in the region than these relatively small numbers which frankly some European countries are talking about."

The UN estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011 and aid agencies have warned that more than nine million Syrians, almost half the population, are in need of humanitarian aid.

Ten countries have promised to allow in 12,000 people, with 80% of the total pledges from Germany and France offering 500 places and Spain 30, according to Amnesty International.

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