Refugee crisis: UN official says Britain 'can do more' as international pressure mounts

The drowning of a Syrian child trying to reach Greece has galvanised anger

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The Independent Online

A senior United Nations official has urged Britain to take in more of the hundreds of thousands of refugees coming to Europe after photos of a drowned Syrian child ignited anger over the Prime Minister's response.

Peter Sutherland, the UN special representative on international migration, said that while some nations were “massively bearing the burden”, the UK was among those that “can do more”.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Sutherland said the refusal of countries to take a “fair share” of refugees “totally undermines” efforts to find a solution.

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Angela Merkel is urging European countries to accept a fair share of refugees under a quota system

 

His comments came as Angela Merkel continued to call on her counterparts to share responsibility and accept national quotas of refugees.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, our close connection with universal civil rights will be destroyed and it won't be the Europe we want,” the German Chancellor said.

Ms Merkel did not specifically mention the UK in that speech but as David Cameron looks for her support to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership, her ambassador ratcheted up the pressure.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Peter Ammon said Mrs Merkel expected the UK to pull its weight.

"Britain has taken in refugees for centuries, and I think not to your disadvantage, and I think we will expect that all partners will make their best efforts to contribute to the solution of this problem," he said.

"Everybody knows how we feel about it and I think it's almost self-evident."

 

Proportionate to its population, the UK is among the European countries taking the fewest asylum seekers, while Germany is leading the way and expects to welcome more than 800,000 refugees this year.

Italy, France and Germany have put forward a joint document calling for the “equal distribution of refugees across Europe”, which includes proposed changes to asylum laws.

The statement has been signed by the foreign ministers of all three countries, who have demanded a “strong European response to the crisis” be discussed at a meeting in Luxembourg starting tomorrow.

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Mariano Rajoy has also called on more to be done to help countries accept refugees

 

The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, also joined the German Chancellor at a joint press conference earlier this week where they both called on the European Commission to step up its efforts.

“The European Commission must identify safe countries of origin (to determine asylum claims) and we need to work towards a certain harmonisation in future,” he said.

The death of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian child photographed after being washed up drowned on a Turkish beach, has also focused scrutiny on international operations to prevent tragedies at sea.

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Aylan drowned alongside his mother, brother and at least nine other refugees on their way to Kos

 

A British Navy ship currently patrolling the Mediterranean does not have search and rescue as its “primary role” but Ireland, which has saved thousands of refugees so far, is extending its own mission.

“While our role in the Mediterranean is making an impact in the short term in terms of saving lives, longer-term solutions to address the migrant crisis are needed,” said defence minister Simon Coveney.

It came as British politicians of all colours supported The Independent’s petition for the Government to accept a fair number of the desperate people fleeing to Europe.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, former cabinet minister Baroness Warsi, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham were among those calling on the Prime Minister to do more.

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Nicola Sturgeon is among the leading politicians supporting The Independent's campaign

 

A spokesperson for Downing Street said the photos of Aylan’s body were “clearly shocking” but emphasised the need to tackle different elements of the crisis.

“We continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria – including as the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, having already pledged £900 million,” he added.

“In addition to this financial support, we have granted protection to almost 5,000 Syrians since the crisis began and continue to tackle the organised trafficking gangs seeking to profit from this human misery.”

The spokesperson refused to tell The Independent whether Mr Cameron had actually seen the images, insisting they didn’t give a “running commentary” on what the Prime Minister has or has not seen.

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Additional reporting by agencies

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