UK to act with 'urgency' over Syrian refugees says PM

 

David Cameron and Ed Miliband on UK helping Syrian refugees

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The UK will act "with the greatest urgency" in offering the "most needy people" in Syrian refugee camps a "home in our country", says David Cameron.

The prime minister told MPs he wanted to "particularly help those who have been victims of sexual violence".

Deputy PM Nick Clegg said on Tuesday torture victims, elderly and disabled people would also get priority.

The government expects the number of refugees accepted to be in the hundreds but has not set a specific target.

Syria refugee camp Germany is taking 11,000 refugees

The UK's resettlement programme is to be separate from the ongoing UN High Commissioner for Refugees scheme which has seen Germany commit to admitting more than 10,000 Syrian refugees and France take 500.

The government has been reluctant to admit any Syrian refugees to the UK, preferring to focus its humanitarian aid on refugees in the region.

But a fear of looking hard hearted and the threat of parliamentary defeat on Wednesday changed minds in Downing Street.

The deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said Britain had a moral responsibility to help and several hundred refugees would now be able to come.

It is not clear where the refugees will go or how long they will stay but it is expected they will get temporary visas that will be reviewed after three years.

The government is still refusing to take part in a resettlement scheme run by the UN high commissioner for refugees.

But the agency welcomed the government's offer and said it would help officials identify the most vulnerable people.

Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs the UK's goal was a political settlement that would "bring an end to the violence in Syria", allowing Syrians to "return to their homes and livelihoods in peace".

But the UK had agreed with the UNHCR office in London to set up a "vulnerable person relocation scheme", which will run in parallel to the agency's own refugee scheme, with the aim of resettling those at the "greatest risk" in the UK.

The programme will focus on individual cases "where evacuation from the region is the only option", said the home secretary, and will "prioritise help for survivors of torture and women and children in need of medical care", as recommended by the UNHCR. There would also be a focus on rescuing the victims of sexual violence, Mrs May told MPs.

"This is in the spirit of the UNHCR programme but it is not technically part of it," she added, saying it would provide "greater flexibility".

She said 3,500 Syrian refugee asylum seekers were already in the UK.

Ahead of that statement Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed the move to take refugees and urged the PM to act with urgency.

Mr Cameron replied: "We will act with the greatest urgency because, when it comes to Syria, we have acted with the greatest urgency throughout.

"We have made available £600m, which makes us the second largest humanitarian donor, we provided food for 188,000 people, clean water for almost a million and medical consultations for almost a quarter of a million.

"We will be coming forward with a scheme to help the most needy people in those refugee camps and offer them a home in our country."

During exchanges in the Commons on Monday, the government faced criticism from MPs of all political parties for declining to participate in the UN-led scheme.

The deputy prime minister's announcement on Tuesday, and the PM's comments, pre-empted a Labour-led debate on the issue, where the government was facing the prospect of a Commons defeat over its refusal to sign up to the UNHCR initiative.

Syrian refugee children play at Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria The UK says half of Syria's nine million population have been displaced

Mr Clegg said: "The coalition government wants to play our part in helping to alleviate the immense suffering in Syria. The £600m we have provided makes us the second largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid in the world.

"But as the conflict continues to force millions of Syrians from their homes, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can.

"We are one of the most open-hearted countries in the world and I believe we have a moral responsibility to help.

Chart showing country pledges on Syrian refugees

"The UN High Commission for Refugees - which backs our new resettlement programme - has said the highest priority should go to women and girls who have experienced or are at risk of sexual violence; the elderly; survivors of torture and individuals with disabilities, so that's who we'll target.

"Sadly we cannot provide safety for everyone who needs it, but we can reach out to some of those who need it most."

The BBC understands the refugees will be given temporary visas allowing them to stay for at least three years.

The visas will then be reviewed on a case-by-case basis taking into account personal circumstances and the situation in Syria.

The UNHC's representative in the UK, Roland Schilling, said the government move was "an encouraging and important step, reaffirming the UK's commitment and contribution to international relief efforts".

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper: ''It is a good thing that the government has completely reversed its position''

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government's move was a "big reversal" but that "compassion and common sense have won through".

"Vulnerable Syrian refugees, torture victims, abandoned children and those struggling to cope or survive in the camps desperately need sanctuary and Britain has a moral obligation to help," she said.

But she said the UK should be working with the UN to decide on numbers rather than setting up a "parallel programme" of its own.

Refugees fleeing Syria
Map showing the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries

The move was welcomed by MPs from all sides of the Commons, former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell saying it gave the UK flexibility to help those whose suffering had been the most "grievous".

But Conservative Brooks Newmark - an expert on Syria - said numbers should be limited and those countries not making such a big contribution to the aid effort should be taking in more refugees than the UK.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage also backed the move, saying a clear distinction must be made between genuine refugees from persecution and economic migrants.

The Refugee Council's Maurice Wren said the move had been a "long time coming" but the UK was standing up for an important principle.

And Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: "This move is long overdue but of course it's never too late to do the right thing."

 

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  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 1316.

    Goodness, the right-wingers are getting their knickers in a twist over accepting a few hundred refugees, when surrounding Muslim countries have taken in millions! Thank heavens the government has made the right decision on this occasion, despite the number of moronic comments you always get in these comments boards.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1315.

    We have our own refugees they live on an island in Somerset surrounded by flood water surely we should put Brits first and foremost.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1314.

    Mr Farage, you've got a lot to answer for.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1313.

    1277.Mark B

    This is a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen for a long time.

    +++

    Sudan, Dafur?

    CAR, Somalia etc . Do I really need to go on.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1312.

    One photograph from my mother's youth is one of her with refugees from the Spanish Civil War who were taken in by their very working class family in the late 1930s, a time of considerably greater poverty than anyone experiences now. Based on what I read here, it seems this willingness to help those suffering elsewhere has left today's "working class" who see it as a conspiracy from the "liberals".

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 1311.

    if this is the right thing to do then the cessation of the attacks on the elderly , the disabled and the unemployed is the right thing to do

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1310.

    And what of the desperately poor and needy here, who are suffering extreme hardship as a result of successive government's policies of unfeterred immigration from within and outside the EU? BRITAIN IS FULL UP! and CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME. Syria is not our problem.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1309.

    Anwer me this left wing librals, would Syrians help us if we were starving and raping our own women and killing our own citizens.

    Would any country outside Europe help Europeans if they were suffering.

    Answer = No.

    Shameful

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 1308.

    Amazing, Shortage of homes here, British families homeless! Government also tells us there is a shortage of money as well so working class have to work harder for less.

    But it's alright because here come a few hundred more from another country with their hands out wanting something for nothing of our backs. Leave them where they are WE DON'T WANT THEM!!!

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 1307.

    In a perfect world the Gulf States would provide sanctuary to these refugees, as they are the ones who are pouring finances and resources into prolonging the war. However its not a perfect world, most of the Gulf States would rather continue the war. The UK I like to believe is better than that, just because the Gulf States wont take in these refugees, we as the better nation will.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1306.

    How many of them in Germany, Sweden etc will make their way to the UK? As others have said, if various Governments had not been soft on immigration, there would be more sympathy. I do have an idea though. How about all the posters stating how racist and selfish we are, take in a few and house, cloth them, pay for their childrens schooling, their burden on the NHS, any benefits and pension costs?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1305.

    yes they need help, in the nearest safest country to syria. and we ll send the same help to them, that we do when theres a natural disaster, then all who need help will get it. it would nt be fair to chose some to come here and not others.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 1304.

    Does anyone actually read the articles they comment on?

    Lebanon has taken in 858,641 refugees. Jordan, 576,354. Turkey 559,994. Iraq, 210,612. Egypt, 131,707.

    Germany is taking in 11,000 refugees from Syria.

    Read your history books. When money gets tight, people blame immigrants. It leads to right-wing-led ill feeling, threats and violence, borne out of misunderstanding & scaremongering.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1303.

    With the laxness of border controls and the freedom to EU countries to live and work here. Our goverment has no sight or care of the despair of our own people. ]I feel for everyone in the world.. please though learn to LIVE TOGETHER

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1302.

    @302 that was due to WORLD WAR ; this is not our war.......

  • Comment number 1301.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1300.

    is this government for real we arrest people that are coming home from helping fighting out there under terrorists laws yet we are going to allow thousands in to the country putting more strain on housing welfare hospitals why don't we just send in the untroops to sort it out has the un got any Balls or not??

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1299.

    Getting a strange sense of moral superiority watching my comment ratings plummet.....its great being right

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1298.

    1279.Global Yawning

    excellent idea, and can all the right wing nutters do the same so the Antifa know which house to pop round to?

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1297.

    1271. denbo observes:-
    '..... no offers from saudi arabia,qatar,united arab emirates bahrain ,malayasia and iran to take these fellow moslems into their country.no they prefer the western countries to open up their doors to yet more refugees caused by their religion!!

    Are these victims being used to assist in the Islamification of Europe by the back door? (By not being accommodated locally).

 

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