The Independent can today reveal the British public’s extraordinary response to the Syrian refugee crisis that is engulfing the Middle East and Europe, with millions coming forward to offer up their time, money and homes – putting pressure on the Government to do much more.
New figures released by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) have found that one in three Britons have contributed in some way to a nationwide relief effort.
A third of those donating money, dropping off goods or volunteering their time said that they were moved to act following the publication of images of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, washed up drowned on a beach in Turkey.
The Independent launched a campaign calling on David Cameron to make sure Britain takes its fair share of those in need, and more than 380,000 people have since signed our petition.
Charities, politicians and volunteers said today that the public response to the refugee crisis had been “incredible”, and joined our call for the Government to go much further and match the efforts of its people.
Jeremy Corbyn, who blasted Mr Cameron’s “wholly inadequate” response to the refugee crisis when the images of Aylan Kurdi first came to light, said the figures showed there was public support for the UK participating in an EU-wide quota scheme being discussed in Brussels this week, and “easing the burden on poorer nations that are struggling to cope”.
He told this newspaper: “Refugees are welcome - and the British people have again demonstrated their humanity, which has sadly not been reflected by our government.”
According to a CAF survey, almost one in three UK adults had got involved in some capacity with the outpouring of public support for refugees in the past month.
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One in 10 said they had donated goods for those in need, while 12 per cent donated money to a charity appeal in support of refugees.
And one in 14 people – the equivalent of almost two million UK households – said they would be prepared to offer a room or space in their home to a refugee.
While millions of pounds have been donated in cash, the generosity of the public has been most clear to see in the efforts of grassroots volunteer groups working on the ground.
Hannah Howard, 31, co-founder of Calais Compassion, said she and a group of friends had been inspired to take action because “the powers that be, that could do something, weren’t doing so”.
She said around 150 people had turned up to drop-off days publicised on Facebook, filling 250 sq ft of storage space “floor to ceiling” with essential supplies to take to refugees.
Responding to today’s figures, she said: “If you’d told me when we started up it would have shocked me, but after the response we have had on Facebook and at the drop-off days that rings incredibly true. The kindness, compassion and solidarity we’ve seen on those days has been absolutely breath-taking.”
Ms Howard said people had come forward “from all walks of life”, and put into perspective the “poor” response from the Government.
“None of us claim to have the answer to what is a complex issue,” she said. “But I feel the British people have spoken and acted far more than the powers that be have done.”
Yvette Cooper MP, chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce, said there was “no doubt” public pressure was to thank for forcing David Cameron to change his position and pledge to take in 4,000 refugees a year.
She told The Independent: “The outpouring of sympathy and generosity from the British public towards refugees fleeing conflict, violence and persecution has been incredible.
“[The Government] must now go much further, working with local communities and local government to take far more refugees in the coming weeks – both from the camps in and around Syria and from amongst those who have already travelled to Europe.”
The Prime Minister is taking part this week in an emergency EU summit on the refugee crisis, and indicated on Tuesday that he will talk up Britain’s financial aid to Middle East countries while suggesting Europe “do more to return migrants who don't have a genuine claim for asylum to their countries of origin”.
This, charities said, was a world away from the sort of compassionate response they were seeing from members of the British public themselves.
“Throughout history, the British public has proved time and time again their willingness to welcome and protect people fleeing conflict and persecution,” said Anna Musgrave, from Refugee Council.
“We now need to see this same generosity of spirit from the British Government."
“British people clearly want us to be doing our bit to help shelter the refugees arriving on Europe's shores: it's up to the Government to make sure that happens. It's never too late for the Government to do the right thing.”
Stephen Hale, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said it was “wonderful to see this outpouring of support for welcoming refugees to the UK”.
“The public have an incredibly important role in supporting refugees, and enabling them to integrate into their new communities,” he said.
“The new Minister for Syrian refugees must [now] announce the funding and support that is available. Local authorities and charities will then be able to come together with local communities to make plans to welcome refugees, and help them rebuild their lives and contribute to Britain.”
CAF’s chief executive, John Low, said the foundation’s Populus survey had shown how images like those of Aylan Kurdi had “really touched people across the country and spurred them on to lend support”.
“British people have a proud history of stepping up to the plate and helping others across the world in their time of need,” he said. “It is a mark of that generosity that so many people are lending their support whether by raising money, donating goods, or even offering space in their homes for a refugee.”
Richard Harrington, Minister for Syrian Refugees, said: "The UK has been at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. We are providing more than £1 billion in humanitarian aid, we have taken in more than 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers since 2011 and we are expanding the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement (VPR) scheme to resettle a further 20,000 people by end of this Parliament.
“The response of the British public has been one of overwhelming generosity and many have been moved to make very kind offers of assistance. We want to harness this, which is why we set-up a dedicated webpage on gov.uk and, with the assistance of the Red Cross, a telephone helpline to ensure people want to assist get the information they need.
“The Government will continue to work hand in hand with the public, charities and local authorities to make sure we are ready to welcome more Syrians who desperately need our assistance.”
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