Syrian crisis: Peers put Cameron under pressure to 'heed the call' and take in refugees

 

The pressure on David Cameron to allow hundreds of Syrian refugees to come to Britain is increasing, with 55 members of the House of Lords urging him to sign up to a United Nations programme.

In an open letter published in The Independent, a cross-party alliance of peers urges the Prime Minister to “heed the call” for Britain to accept its share of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees.  It calls for “a co-ordinated resettlement programme in the UK” and describes the UNHCR scheme as a “moral imperative” and the only “durable solution”.

Mr Cameron said on Thursday he is “open-minded” about accepting some refugees but remains reluctant to join the UNHCR programme. He is expected to give some more ground in an attempt to head off  an embarrassing defeat in the Commons next Wednesday. Labour has called a debate on the issue and is confident of attracting the support of Liberal Democrat MPs after Nick Clegg backed Labour’s call for Britain to take about 500 refugees. Some Tory backbenchers may also vote with Labour. 

Labour has drafted a consensual motion in an attempt to attract as much cross-party support as possible. It welcomes the Government’s £600m of aid to Syria but expresses concern about “the plight of the most vulnerable refugees who will find it hardest to cope in the camps in the region, including victims of torture and children without families” and urges and Britain to join the  UNHCR resettlement programme.

On Thursday night Mr Cameron insisted Britain is “fulfilling our moral obligation” to the Syrian people and argued that Western countries could not solve their “moral conscience” by accepting small numbers of refugees. He told the BBC: “Let’s not pretend that some sort of international quota system, with countries taking a few hundred people, is going to solve this problem. It is not.”

From Damascus to Davos to Westminster: The issue dominating the headlines

 

The peers who have signed the new letter include Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, the former  Lib Dem leader; Baroness (Shirley) Williams, the former Cabinet minister and Lib Dem leader in the Lords;  the Rt Rev Lord (Rowan) Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury; Baroness Betty Boothroyd, the former Commons Speaker and Tory peers Baroness (Elizabeth) Berridge and Baroness (Gloria) Hooper.

Lady Berridge said:“While being strong on immigration, we should not lose sight of the importance of asylum and helping some of the most vulnerable people in an awful situation that we must remember has been going on for three years. Hopefully we are reaching a tipping point where more of my Conservative colleagues will agree with this.”

Lord Ashdown accused  the Prime Minister of putting the “baleful hand of politics” above his “proper and decent instincts” to help those in plight. He said: “It is frankly shaming that Britain is so far down the league table of Western nations compared to commit to resettlement. I have a strong suspicion that this is not to do with a humanitarian need, but far more to do with the political imperative of the Tories trying to make sure the public understand their hard-line on immigration.”

Lord Ashdown added: “The Prime Minister has sought to hide from his moral obligation by simply diverting attention to the money.”

Maurice Wren, chief executive of the Refugee Council, which co-ordinated the letter, said: “We’re heartened by the growing political consensus that resettlement is the right thing to do. The countries neighbouring Syria have not had the luxury of choice about the numbers of refugees they offer safe haven to. The UK must stand alongside these countries and pledge to accept our fair share.”

So far 18 nations have signed up to the UNHCR scheme to resettle the most vulnerable refugees, such as children, vulnerable adults and victims of sexual abuse, with Germany alone agreeing to accept 10,000.

Vincent Cochtel, director of the UNHCR’s Europe Bureau, said “from the perspective of the refugee it would make a hell of a difference”. He said: “The big picture is there are 2.4m Syrian refugees. When you zoom down and take a country like Turkey, it has taken 700,000 refugees, while the 47 countries that make up the rest of Europe have only taken 70,000 refugees. That gives you an idea of the scale of the problem.”

Read more:
Dear Prime Minister: Full text of peers' letter to David Cameron regarding the Syrian refugee crisis
The plight of Syria's refugees transcends party politics. What’s worrying is that Nigel Farage realised that before our Prime Minister
The situation for Syria's refugees is desperate. Our Government must now sign up to the UN's resettlement plan  
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Case Handler

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Sales Apprentice

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £20,000 - £60,000

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Team Leader

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence