David Cameron is doing nowhere near enough to help Syrian refugees, says Andy Burnham

Shadow home secretary tells Labour confrence the PM needs to 'have compassion' towards refugees

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The Government’s plans to take in Syrian refugees are “nowhere near” the extent of what Britain should be doing to help, Labour’s shadow home secretary has said.

Andy Burnham told Labour conference in Brighton that David Cameron needed to “have compassion” and show Britain still stood for the values it showed when it accepted refugees during World War Two.

Have they seen the TV images? People struggling over fields on crutches, in wheelchairs, parents carrying exhausted children for hundreds of miles. We can’t turn out backs on this, can we?

Andy Burnham

“The Government’s plans are nowhere near equal to the scale of this humanitarian catastrophe. They say they won’t help those already here in Europe because they are the fittest and the strongest,” he said in his speech.

“Have they seen the TV images? People struggling over fields on crutches, in wheelchairs, parents carrying exhausted children for hundreds of miles. We can’t turn out backs on this, can we? Britain didn’t do it 75 years ago and we shouldn’t do it now.

“Prime Minister: have compassion, help our neighbours, give people shelter in their hour of need. Show the world that this country still stands for higher ideals.”

Mr Burnham added that the move was also in Britain’s interests as it would “build goodwill” internationally towards the UK and help the Prime Minister’s renegotiation strategy for EU membership.

The shadow home secretary’s comments follow others made by his party leader Jeremy Corbyn in his speech on Tuesday.

Mr Corbyn argued that Britain should “reach out the hand of humanity” to refugees, criticizing the scale of response from the Government and international community in general.

Mr Cameron has said the UK will take 4,000 refugees a year for the next five years, a total of 20,000. These refugees will be drawn from people living in camps in countries neighboring Syria and people coming to Europe of their own accord will not be included.

The UK has also opted out of a European Union scheme to relocate 120,000 migrants who have already travelled Europe.

Britain’s efforts to accommodate refugees pale in comparison to those made by similar economies. Germany’s vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the country could accept up to a million refugees this year and take hundreds of thousands for the next few years.

Mr Corbyn has made help for Syrian refugees a key part of his leadership so far; one of his first acts as leader of the Labour party was to attend a demonstration in support of Britain doing more to help.

The issue was also extensively raised by Yvette Cooper during the Labour leadership campaign.

The Government has preferred to send money rather than offer asylum to Syrians. Ministers have previously said that offering asylum could encourage people to make a dangerous journey to Europe fleeing a warzone. 

The UK says it has provided an around £1bn contribution UK’s contribution to refugees in Syria and its surrounding countries Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

In his speech Mr Burnham also addressed the issued of free immigration from the European Union, an issue whose effects he said Labour had "neglected" for too long. He called for measures to ameliorate the pressures on services and skilled wages he said the policy had caused.

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