UK aims to take in 1,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas, says PM

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image captionRefugees will travel to the UK from camps in countries neighbouring Syria, including Jordan

The UK aims to take in 1,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

About 260 Syrians have already arrived in the UK as part of the government's scheme to relocate 20,000 people from camps neighbouring Syria by 2020.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the government's negotiating power on European Union reform could be boosted if the UK accepted more refugees.

But the PM insisted the UK's stance had gained "a lot of respect" in the EU.

The government has also provided £1bn in aid to Syria, with an extra £100m given to charities to help thousands displaced by the conflict.

'Step up the pace'

The UK has been under pressure to take in more people as Europe struggles to deal with a huge influx of refugees - most fleeing conflict in Syria but large numbers also fleeing violence and poverty in Afghanistan, Eritrea and Kosovo.

On Sunday, it emerged 84 Church of England bishops had written to Mr Cameron urging him to accept at least 50,000 refugees.

But speaking in the Commons as he made a statement following a European Council meeting in Brussels, Mr Cameron said the bishops' position was "wrong".

He suggested they should press other countries to fulfil their aid commitments.

"I think the right thing to do is to take 20,000 refugees from the camps and if you become part of the mechanism of distributing people around the European Union then you're encouraging people to make that dangerous journey," he said.

Syrian refugees in the UK


more refugees will be resettled in the UK by 2020


Syrian asylum seekers have been allowed to stay since 2011

  • 25,771 people applied for asylum in the UK in the year to end June 2015

  • 2,204 were from Syria

  • 87% of Syrian requests for asylum were granted

  • 145 Syrian asylum seekers have been removed from the UK since 2011


During the exchange in the Commons, Mr Cameron appeared to suggest countries like Hungary, which has been widely criticised for building fences to keep refugees and migrants out, have the right to protect their borders.

Answering a question from Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, the prime minister said: "As for Europe's external borders, they are not my responsibility, and I'll leave Viktor Orban to defend himself.

"But just so he knows the point that the Hungarian prime minister makes, and others make, is that Europe has an external border and needs to prove it has an external border in order to make sure people don't believe that it is a risk-free easy journey to make to go to the European Union."

Mr Cameron also said it was right for European countries to offer Turkey financial support to help deal with the migration crisis as it has taken in two million refugees, with nine out of 10 who travel there remaining in the country.

He said the details of an EU aid package to Turkey which could total up to £2.2bn were still being finalised.

Outside the Commons, the PM's official spokeswoman said the figure of 1,000 Syrian refugees arriving in the UK by Christmas was "an ambition we are working to".

Mr Cameron wanted to "step up the pace" of the resettlement programme, she added.

The government will issue a progress update after Christmas.

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