This Thursday marks the first anniversary of the Government finally accepting the call from Labour, and thousands of campaigners, to accept the most vulnerable Syrian refugees.
The people of Britain have reacted with generosity and humanity in response to this tragedy, which is the worst humanitarian crisis since WW2. The DEC Syria Crisis Appeal raised £27m in 19 months, and there was widespread support for campaigns raising awareness of the Syrian peoples' plight. Over 10,000 people signed Amnesty International’s petition to get the government to accept Syrian refugees.
However, it wasn’t until last year – long after Ed Miliband, Yvette Cooper and myself, along with Labour backbenchers, pledged Labour’s support for the campaign – that the Prime Minister finally U-turned from his opposition to allow Syrian refugees to come to the UK.
In the year since the Government made its commitment, the situation in Syria has deteriorated even further. There are over a million more refugees than this time last year, with the UNHCR registering a staggering – and heartbreaking – 3.7m refugees in the region (although they acknowledge the actual number is likely to be much higher).
Since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011 an estimated 9m Syrians have fled their homes and according to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), around 1.2m houses have been damaged, with 400,000 totally destroyed.
The scale of this crisis and the suffering meted on the Syrian people is horrific: a city the size of Manchester has been destroyed, and a population bigger than London’s displaced. But unfortunately, despite the Secretary of State for International Development last year saying that the crisis had reached “catastrophic proportions”, and despite the Government making promises to provide support, according to the Refugee Council, the Government has only accepted 90 refugees from Syria in the last year.
To make matters worse, in December the Government refused to send any Ministers to a key United Nations conference in Geneva to see if more could be done to increase the numbers of refugees countries across Europe could take.
In pictures: Global refugee crisis
In pictures: Global refugee crisis
1/41 Yemeni refugees
Yemeni refugees carry water to their tent at the Mazraq internally displaced people's camp in the northwestern province of Hajja
2/41 Yemeni refugees
A displaced man from Yemen's Saada province amid UNHCR tents at a camp set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mazraq in Yemen's Hajja region, 360 kms northwest of Sanaa
3/41 Yemeni refugees
Yemeni refugees queue to get food aid at the Marzaq internally displaced people's camp in Harad in the northwestern province of Hajjah
4/41 Yemeni refugees
Displaced Yemenis from al-Jaachan Al-Ansin, a village in the province of Ibb, some 200km South-East of Sanaa, stand next to their tents in a makeshift refugee camp in Sanaa
5/41 Yemeni refugees
Yemeni refugees walk to a refugee camp in the southern Saudi province of Jizan after crossing the border from Yemen into Saudi Arabia
6/41 Syrian refugees
Syrian refugees arrive in Turkey at the Cilvegozu crossing gate of Reyhanli, in Hatay. The number of people driven from their homes by conflict and crisis has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II, with Syrians hardest hit, the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) said, in an annual report released on World Refugee Day
7/41 Syrian refugees
Syrian refugees walking among tents at Karkamis' refugee camp near the town of Gaziantep, south of Turkey
8/41 Sudanese refugees
South Sudanese refugees waiting for food in the Kule refugee camp near the Pagak Border Entry point in the Gambella Region, Ethiopia
9/41 African refugees
African refugees live homelessly at a temporary shelter beside a road on World Refugee Day in Sana'a, Yemen. The number of African refugees who have come to Yemen during the past few years has reached 750,000, most of them are Somalis
10/41 Iraqi refugees
An Iraqi refugee girl from Mosul stands outside her family's tent at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq. The militants' capture of Iraq's cities of Mosul and Tikrit makes their dream of a new Islamic state look more realistic. It already controlled a swath of eastern Syria along the Euphrates River, with a spottier presence extending further west nearly to Aleppo, Syria's largest city. In Raqqa, the biggest city it holds in Syria, it imposes taxes, rebuilds bridges and enforces the law - its strict version of Shariah
11/41 Iraqi refugees
Refugees queue to register at a temporary camp in northern Iraq
12/41 Syrian refugees
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
13/41 Syrian refugees
A child refugee from the northern province of Raqqa in Syria, reacts from the cold weather in a Syrian refugee camp beside the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in eastern Bekaa Valley
14/41 Syrian refugees
Boys help their father remove snow in front of their tent in the Azaz refugee camp
15/41 Syrian refugees
A Syrian refugee family from Aleppo crosses the Bosphorus from Uskudar to the European side of Istanbul
16/41 Syrian refugees
A child refugee stands next to a home constructed using a billboard in the settlement of Qab Elias in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
17/41 Syrian refugees
Refugee baby Rim in the settlement of Qab Elias in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
18/41 African refugees
Refugees arriving at a camp near Bossangoa, 190 miles north of Bangui, the capital. Forty-one thousand people fled their homes following mass executions in the area
Juan Carlos Tomasi/Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders
19/41 Syrian refugees
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
20/41 Iraqi refugees
A women and a girl wash at a tap at a temporary displacement camp set up next to a Kurdish checkpoint in Kalak. Thousands of people have fled Iraq's second city of Mosul after it was overrun by Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants. Many have been temporarily housed at various IDP (internally displaced persons) camps around the region including the area close to Erbil, as they hope to enter the safety of the nearby Kurdish region
21/41 Iraqi refugees
Families arrive at a Kurdish checkpoint next to a temporary displacement camp in Kalak
22/41 Iraqi refugees
An Iraqi refugee girl from Mosul stands outside her family's tent at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Iraq. Days after Iraq's second-largest city fell to Isis fighters, some Iraqis are already returning to Mosul, lured back by insurgents offering cheap gas and food, restoring power and water and removing traffic barricades
23/41 Iraqi refugees
A girl, who fled from the violence in Mosul, carries a case of water at a camp on the outskirts of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region
24/41 Iraqi refugees
A displaced Iraqi woman washes her family's laundry as the children shower outside their tent at a temporary camp set up to shelter civilians fleeing violence in Iraq's northern Nineveh province in Aski kalak, 40 kms west of the Kurdish autonomous region's capital Arbil
25/41 Iraqi refugees
Iraqi refugees from Mosul arrive at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad
26/41 Sudanese refugees
The international Red Cross said that the road from Bor to the nearby Awerial area 'is lined with thousands of people' waiting for boats so they could cross the Nile River and that the gathering of displaced 'is the largest single identified concentration of displaced people in the country so far'
27/41 Sudanese refugees
People unload the few belongings at Minkammen, that they were able to bring with them to the camps
28/41 Sudanese refugees
Thousands of exhausted civilians are crowding into the fishing village of Minkammen, a once-tiny riverbank settlement of a few thatch huts 25 kilometres (20 miles) southwest of Bor
29/41 Sudanese refugees
Many people had spent days hiding out in the bush outside Bor as gunmen battled for control of the town, which has exchanged hands three times in the conflict, and remains in rebel control
30/41 Sudanese refugees
A young boy pulls his suitcase of belongings as he walks to find a place to rest after getting off a river barge from Bor
31/41 Sudanese refugees
A displaced family camp under a tree providing partial shade from the midday sun
32/41 Sudanese refugees
A boy carries a fish, caught from the nearby Nile river, in a cardboard box on his head back to his relatives to eat
33/41 Sudanese refugees
A mother and her baby, one of the few to have a mosquito net, wake up in the morning after sleeping in the open
34/41 Sudanese refugees
Four-month old Haida Majzub was born in the Ajuong Thok refugee camp inside South Sudan. The camp, in northern Unity State, hosts thousands of refugees from the Nuba Mountains, located across the nearby border with Sudan
35/41 Sudanese refugees
A girl fills a container with muddy water in the Ajuong Thok Refugee Camp
36/41 Sudanese refugees
The clashes in South Sudan began when uniformed personnel opened fire at a meeting of the governing party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement
37/41 Myanmar refugees
45 year old Dilbhar looks towards the camera as she stands in the Shamalapur Rohingya refugee settlement in Chittagong district. She escaped to Bangladesh from the Bodchara village in the Mondu district of Myanmar
38/41 Myanmar refugees
32 year old Mahada Khatum, 5 year old Hasan Sharif, and 9 year old Umma Kulsum sit outside their home in the Shamalapur Rohingya refugee settlement in Chittagong district. The family escaped violence and discrimination from the Zomgara Baharchara village in the Meherulla district of Myanmar
39/41 Myanmar refugees
Hamid and his daughter Rajama sit inside their home in the Shamalapur Rohingya refugee settlement in Chittagong district. They fled to Bangladesh from the Dhuachopara village in the Rachidhong district of Myanmar
40/41 Afghan refugees
Afghan children wait for relief supplies from the Muslim Hands United For The Needy during an aid distribution at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul
41/41 Afghan refugees
Afghan people carry relief supplies received from the Muslim Hands United For The Needy during an aid distribution at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul
Ministers from the Foreign office and the Department for International Development have used the excuse that most refugees want to stay put, so they might be able to one day go home. It is true that many refugees do want to go back to their homeland once the war is over and it is safe to do so. And Labour have supported the work the Government is doing to fund and lend expertise to those NGOs running refugee camps in countries neighbouring Syria.
But some people simply cannot survive in these camps – children who have been orphaned in the conflict with no one and nowhere to go, women who have been raped, people with serious medical conditions or disabilities. These are the people the UNHCR are asking some of the wealthiest countries in the world (including Britain) to give a home to.
And it is unrealistic to expect countries in the region to bear the entire burden of this humanitarian crisis. Lebanon has recently closed its borders and extreme poverty exacerbated by winter conditions and electricity cuts in Jordan mean it is neither feasible or credible for Ministers to claim it is safe and possible for all refugees, including the most vulnerable, to stay in the region.
Britain must do its part. The worsening crisis in the region has only served to strengthen the Labour party’s desire to ensure the UK honours its obligations and responds to this crisis. The humanitarian aid that the government has given is vital and welcome, but at a time when countries around the world are redoubling their efforts the 90 people allowed into the UK by Ministers simply isn’t enough.
A Labour government is committed to increasing the numbers of Syrian refugees coming to this country to ensure we are meeting our international obligations in line with neighbouring countries like France. Yvette Cooper has also called on the Government to hold a summit with local councils across the country to see how many more places can be offered after some Council leaders have come forward saying they would like to – and are able to - help but have been ignored by the Home Office.
The UK government represents the people of Britain on the global stage, and I think it is vital they portray the humanity and compassion so many feel in response to this crisis. I hope this week ministers will use the opportunity of the anniversary of their pledge to recognise their failure so far and commit to redoubling their efforts.Reuse content