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?

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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page


Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments