David Cameron has announced he will “modestly expand” the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the UK by offering "a few hundred more" places, but charities said Britain’s commitment to the humanitarian crisis still “pales in comparison” to its European neighbours.
Britain lags embarrassingly behind its European neighbours in efforts to offer asylum to the 3.9 million Syrians who have fled the country since the civil war broke out four years ago, with the UK taking in just 1.5 per cent of the number accepted by Germany.
Last year the government committed to accepting up to 500 refugees from the war-torn country by the end of 2017 after The Independent supported a campaign to force the government to open its doors to the most vulnerable survivors.
However only 187 Syrians have been granted entry into the UK since Theresa May introduced the Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme in January 2014. The Prime Minister said the UK would boost the number of places to resettle the most vulnerable, but Downing Street said the figure would not exceed 1,000.
This compares dismally with the number of Syrian refugees taken in by fellow European countries. Germany has offered 30,000 places to resettle Syrians, Sweden has committed to resettling 2,700, Switzerland has offered 3,500 places and Austria 1,500.
However the vast majority of the 3.9 million people who have fled Syria due to the conflict remain in the countries surrounding Syria, which have been overwhelmed by the crisis.
A staggering 98.3 per cent of Syrian refugees are stuck in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.
Humanitarian charities, while welcoming any boost in the number of asylum places, said the UK should be accepting thousands, not hundreds, of Syrian refugees.
In pictures: Syria's escalating refugee crisis
In pictures: Syria's escalating refugee crisis
1/20 Syria refugee crisis
A young Syrian refugee stands near jerry cans used to collect water at Al-Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. The United Nations hopes that political talks between the warring sides in Syria will clinch local ceasefires to allow vital food and medicines to reach millions of civilians
2/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrian refugees transport small stones for their tents at Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria
3/20 Syria refugee crisis
Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a deeply divided opposition, world powers and regional bodies started a long-delayed peace conference aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-year civil war
4/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian refugee family rests inside their shelter in Hatay, Turkey
5/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian refugee family from Aleppo crosses the Bosphorus from Uskudar to the European side of Istanbul
6/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syria's air force struck rebel-held areas around Damascus and Aleppo as face-to-face peace talks tentatively began in Switzerland
7/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrian refugees look out from an evacuated house in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul. Syrians fill houses which have been evacuated for urban development projects. Destitute Syrian refugees who have fled the war in Syria and camps in Turkey are fighting for their lives in different parts of Istanbul
8/20 Syria refugee crisis
Refugees who moved into the houses in Kucukpazar neighbourhood near the historic Suleymaniye mosque, are struggling to live without water and heating
9/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian woman and her child stand inside a building in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul
10/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian boy sits in debris in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul
11/20 Syria refugee crisis
Damaged buildings line a street in the besieged area of Homs
12/20 Syria refugee crisis
People sit around a fire along a street lined with debris in the besieged area of Homs
13/20 Syria refugee crisis
Children cut wood pieces in the besieged area of Homs. Efforts to get food and medical aid into Homs have become a test case on whether peace talks in Switzerland can produce any practical results almost three years into the Syrian conflict
14/20 Syria refugee crisis
Boys walk along a street past damaged buildings and vehicles in the besieged area of Homs
15/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrians stand in a destroyed street following a reported airstrike by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
16/20 Syria refugee crisis
Rescue teams search for survivors on the rubble of a building following Syrian government air raids in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
17/20 Syria refugee crisis
A graveyard in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
18/20 Syria refugee crisis
A view of destruction in Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque, in the UNESCO-listed northern Syrian city. The mosque's minaret was blown up during clashes between opposition and government forces
19/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrians attend the funeral of victims who reportedly died of hunger in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus
20/20 Syria refugee crisis
A man holds the corpse of one-year old baby Adbul Jalil Mohamed Hamis wrapped in shrouds, who reportedly died of hunger in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus during a funeral ceremony
Dr Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “This news, quite simply, will transform people’s lives. Each resettlement place Britain provides will be life changing, if not life-saving for some of the most desperate men, women and children on the planet.
“However, we are in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis in recent memory and this commitment still pales in comparison to pledges made by other European countries.
“Britain has a proud tradition of protecting and welcoming refugees: the Government must uphold this reputation by going the extra mile and offering a safe haven to thousands, not hundreds, of refugees from Syria who so desperately need it.”
The announcement follows a report by the UN earlier this week that 3.9 million people have fled Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011. A total of 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced, according to the report.
Speaking at a security conference in Slovakia, where he called for Muslim communities to take more responsibility for countering radicalisation, Mr Cameron said: "Today I can announce that we will work with the United Nations to modestly expand this national scheme so that we provide resettlement for the most vulnerable fleeing Syria, those who cannot be adequately protected in neighbouring countries."
It is part of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) scheme to resettle survivors of torture and violence, women and children who have fled the conflict and cannot be protected in the region.
Answering criticism of the UK’s refusal to sign up to the UNHCR call for Western governments to accept 100,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said:
“We’ve always been clear that we don’t agree with the principle of quotas being set; we think this is for countries to make their own decisions on and so this is a decision we have taken and where we will work with the UNHCR on it.”
The UK government has chosen to prioritise its humanitarian efforts on offering aid to the region in the form of food, medical care and water. It has donated a total of £800 million to Syria and its neighbours, with half of the sum going towards Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt to assist with the flood of refugees fleeing Bashar al-Assad’s regime.Reuse content