The situation for Syria's refugees is desperate. Our Government must now sign up to the UN's resettlement plan

Why are ministers so resistant to provide this limited help?

Share
Related Topics

As the Syrian conflict becomes ever more desperate, vulnerable refugees need our help. The Independent has rightly championed the UN’s humanitarian programme to resettle those too vulnerable to survive or cope in camps. But the British Government’s refusal to sign up is wrong. And ministers’ objections look increasingly thin. They should rethink before next week’s Parliamentary vote.

Already over 2m refugees have fled their country – over half of them children. The devastation and human tragedy is dire. Most of the help is rightly being provided in the region – and Britain has shown welcome leadership by providing £600m of aid.

But the UN has also asked for help to resettle a limited number of very vulnerable refugees - abandoned children who have no protection, torture victims suffering immense physical and mental distress, people needing medical help, mothers of young children who have lost husbands and other relatives or who may have been abused. And that’s where the British Government’s refusal is so disappointing.

Eighteen other countries have agreed to help – including our European neighbours, Australia, Canada, and the USA – taking the UN well on their way towards their target. So why are ministers so resistant to provide this limited help?

First Home Office ministers and the Conservative Party chair argued that the UN programme was “tokenistic.” But that’s clearly nonsense. Of course, only a minority of refugees will be helped because only a minority need this support. And it certainly won’t feel tokenistic to a desperate child given a home.

Then the Deputy Prime Minister suggested Britain was doing its bit by giving asylum instead. But asylum seekers have to get here and most of these vulnerable refugees can’t travel alone.

Both the Home Office and the Prime Minister have said they are providing support in the region instead. But it shouldn’t be an either-or. Countries should do both. Britain’s aid is vital – but while most people need support in the camps, some struggle to cope. And it’s really important that Theresa May doesn’t resist every refugee programme, however small, because of the Home Office net migration target which wrongly includes refugees within it. This isn’t about border control, or immigration policy, it’s about sanctuary for those fleeing persecution.

On Wednesday, under pressure, the Prime Minister said he would look at the issue of people who don’t belong in camps. Then why not sign up to the UN programme? That will help them and encourage other countries to do more too. It’s harder to ask Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to keep their borders open, and help millions of people, if Britain refuses to take in a few hundred of those in greatest need.

Labour will call a vote in Parliament next week on joining the UN programme, but this issue has always had strong cross-party support. All party leaders agree we have a moral obligation to help those suffering in the Syrian conflict. That’s why I urge the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to change their minds now and act.

Yvette Cooper is the shadow Home Secretary

Read more:
Syrian crisis: Peers put Cameron under pressure to 'heed the call' and take in refugees
Dear Prime Minister: Full text of peers' letter to David Cameron regarding the Syrian refugee crisis
Editorial: Let them in - Britain has a moral duty to help Syria's refugees
'No room at the inn': Britain condemned for turning its back on Syria's refugees
Syria in crisis: Country's healthcare system is 'going backwards in time, at a rate of a decade a month'
 

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all