We rarely publish open letters. There are many causes worthy of the space, but the worst of these round-robins can be terrifically dull – the news equivalent of those concerts by committee, every slither of interest edited out in the pursuit of consensus.
Today we make an exception for 25 charities who entreat the Prime Minister to accept some Syrian refugees – any, in fact.
Britain’s toxic debate (or lack of) on economic immigration – a separate issue – means that Downing Street feels boxed-in on refugees, unable to show compassion in the face of what the UN high commissioner for refugees calls “the defining humanitarian crisis of our time”. Britain has given generously, £600 million in aid, helping millions of families to survive, and many people here will argue that we are not obliged to accept the persecuted and displaced from another country’s civil war, even one as appalling as Syria’s.
How short are our memories, though? This is a country where we encouraged the opposition, helped to fortify them, and until the House of Commons intervened were prepared to launch military strikes. Syria’s war is not ours, but we bear a little responsibility for our assistance to the rebels – and our subsequent flight.
More than 2 million refugees have registered in Syria’s neighbours. Without “opening floodgates”, could we 63 million afford to take 100 Syrians? 1,000? 5,000? Can the PM and Chancellor help chivy their international counterparts to do more for the millions left in camps?
Syria was a functioning society of friendly people, albeit a police state, when I travelled round the country six months before the war began. This people’s scale of suffering now is scarcely conceivable. They have so little. We have left our compassion.