The daunting scale of the Syrian refugee crisis is no excuse for Britain to take in so very few of the displaced


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The Independent Online

The case for Britain to take in many more Syrian refugees is an unanswerable one. The arguments published by The Independent today by a formidable coalition of charities and aid agencies – whose workers have witnessed at first hand the terrible suffering of so many innocent people – have been criminally ignored by the Government.

Even the Prime Minister’s inadequate pledge some months ago, after pressure from this newspaper and others, to provide places for about 500 to come to Britain is not being met, or at least we are far off schedule. We now know that only around 100 Syrians have been able to come to this country under the Government’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme. Oxfam, Save the Children, Cafod, Christian Aid, Muslim Hands and others are right to abandon the usual behind-the-scenes pressure and speak out publicly. It is an unusual step for them and they do not do so lightly.

And it is not as if we in this country are free of some responsibility for what is happening in Syria. From the toxic blunder of the 2003 invasion of Iraq through our initial reluctance to help the moderate rebels in Syria to our current interventions against Isis, the West has run into trouble at almost every turn, and it is the peoples of Iraq and Syria who have lost their lives and livelihoods. While we may well baulk at allowing jihadists to return to Britain, we should have no hesitation in welcoming their victims.

Whatever view is taken of the plight of the Syrian refugees fleeing Isis, they can certainly not be labelled “bogus asylum-seekers”, “economic migrants” or “benefits tourists”. As every account of the pitiful devastation in that once‑peaceful society demonstrates, for many of these people it is a choice between flight from their homes and death. It is a simple matter of human decency and compassion to offer these refugees both aid and shelter in the lands surrounding Syria that have taken on such a heavy burden – particularly Lebanon and Jordan.

It is also our duty in the West and in Britain to play our role in offering them a safe haven. Leaving them starving on freezing hillsides or in disease-prone camps for another winter is not an option any nation with a conscience should accept.

All of which leaves the question of numbers. The 10,000 people the aid agencies suggest the UK should offer refuge to is a perfectly reasonable and proportionate figure. We should set it against the fact that almost three million and more refugees have fled Syria in the “worst humanitarian crisis of our generation”, as the agencies describe it. Most of them have found refuge in the region; Germany has agreed to resettle 20,000 refugees and America has already granted visas to 9,100 Syrians as part of an “open-ended” policy.

Mr Cameron’s reluctance to do more is curious. After all, even Ukip’s Nigel Farage agrees that we should let many in, precisely because they do not constitute any of the immigrant groups he usually objects to, and their case is so obviously genuine. The other major parties also want to do more. The British people as a whole would sympathise with such a move. Here is a case for immigration with the right moral imperative attached to it and where the Prime Minister can secure a much-needed political dividend, as well as simply doing the right thing.