Letters: We must open our door to Syrian refugees

These letters appear in the 4th January edition of the Independent

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Your article “Farage calls on Britain to admit Syrian war refugees” (30 December) raised the issue that we have flatly refused to take in a single family fleeing Syria.

In seeking to hold the Coalition to account on this crucial matter, I have secured a debate and will be asking the Government to take action in conjunction with other EU member states to establish a European-wide evacuation and resettlement programme for those fleeing the conflict.

I hope colleagues from all parties (and none) will take up this opportunity (on 9 January) and contribute constructively to the debate. The UK can and must lead the EU in living out the true meaning of its creed and offer a safe haven for refugees fleeing such a dreadful war.

While I am proud that the Government has given financial assistance to NGOs working in Syria, and to Syria’s neighbours who have taken on the burden of accepting so many seeking refuge, more must be done. We cannot fail the people of Syria.

Rev Lord Roberts  of Llandudno, President, Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, House of Lords, London SW1

Andy Turney (letter, 2 January) seems to believe that the West’s lack of intervention in Syria in 2013 is something to be celebrated. I’m not sure it’s time to reach for the bubbly just yet.

Not only is Assad continuing to butcher his own people, he has dragged his feet on the issue of chemical weapons and is getting even further into bed with Vladimir Putin.

The death toll in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, has just passed 130,000. There is a worrying trend at present for overlooking the deaths of innocents in far-off lands if those deaths have nothing to do with the West. Only if we are in some way involved do those killings appear to count in the minds of some.

There are plenty who are shrill when Western governments contemplate ways of trying to prevent bloodshed, but if the West steers clear of the killing fields you’ll hear a deafening silence as bodies pile up. 

The deaths of all innocent people count at all times. I’ll leave the champagne  on ice.

Phil Edwards, Godalming, Surrey

I wonder how many of your readers would take issue with your leader “Let them in – Britain has a moral duty to help Syria’s refugees” (26 December). Although alluded to in your news coverage, nowhere in your editorial is Britain’s contribution of £500m of aid to Syria acknowledged.

The opposition, ready as usual to criticise the Government’s reluctance to accept Syrian refugees,  seems ready to forget – when convenient – that charity should begin at home, and more than ready to turn a blind eye to our overburdened infrastructure and social services.

Common sense is often misconstrued as being mean-spirited or nothing more than a hurdle to be overcome.

Attempting to find a metaphor for what too often is labelled racism – but is nothing more than a sensible solution to overload – one could consider Samuel Plimsoll’s controversial line upon seagoing vessels which was adopted as a warning that they were dangerously overloaded.

Common sense did prevail in that case. When will we, as a nation, be ready to recognise it in limiting the number of entrants to our shores until our resources have recovered from unregulated immigration and are once more fit for purpose?

Peter Troy, Headington, Oxford

Congratulations on your editorial calling on Britain to join the US, France and Germany in taking its share of Syrian refugees. The Green Party joins you in that call.

Among the more than two million Syrians who have fled their country, about 800,000 are in Lebanon, 500,000 each in Jordan and Turkey, and about 8,000 across the entire EU.

Those who are particularly vulnerable need more than the basic protection these regional countries are able to offer, and the UK, as one of the world’s richest countries, with a long and honourable history of providing asylum, has a responsibility to be again a place of refuge.

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, London NW1

NHS should be free when needed most

One in three doctors is in favour of charging for A&E services (“Charge £10 to keep timewasters away from A&E, say GPs”, 3 January). This is a response to increasing attendances at A&E and is one of the Government’s own design, having made it more and more difficult to get services from the local GP surgery or health centre.

If these A&E charges were ever enacted, it would end the principle that the NHS provides services free at the point of delivery. It will also increase still further the administrative burden on our overstretched health sector, which would have to judge whether a visit was necessary and issue the refunds to those “deserving” cases.

We currently all pay for the health of our citizens, proportionate to what we can afford, through general taxation. If we were to move to a society where people pay for the services that we use (or even deserve), should we be charging more tax for mountain climbers and skateboarders and less for childless couples? Should smokers and drinkers be penalised?

As a childless, non-smoking couple who do not participate in adventure sports, we could look forward to tax rebates, but we are daft enough to believe in the old-fashioned principle that we should pay our fair share towards the health of all of our citizens and that these services should be provided free when they are needed most.

Peter and Susan Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk

There are those who want people to be charged for going to A&E. But what about those like me who neither keep spare cash nor have a credit card? We also live alone, so can’t necessarily borrow the money from someone.

Will we have to show a bank book or statement saying how much money we have before being seen to? If so, this is another step towards dismantling our NHS, as well as penalising the poorest.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby

Another way to measure our progress

Eighty years ago today, a report was presented to the US Senate which, by common consent, marks the birth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The brainchild of US economist Simon Kuznets, GDP was designed to provide information about economic activity during the Depression.

It has since assumed an almost unassailable authority as the de facto measure of a country’s progress. However, as the world faces new economic and social challenges, we must all ask ourselves what more should be done do to measure progress.

Last year, the Social Progress Index (SPI) was launched – an attempt to provide a more complete picture of nations’ social progress, designed to complement GDP and help governments frame global, national and local responses to address societies’ challenges. Unlike GDP, which measures the market value of goods and services, the SPI quantifies social output, assessing factors such as political freedoms, availability of quality healthcare, and measurements of citizens’ personal safety.

Today we celebrate Kuznets’ achievement, but we hope that, in another 80 years, generations will look back to the start of the 21st century as the time when nations recognised the value of measuring social progress on a par with economic progress.

Michael Green, Executive Director of the Social Progress Imperative, London SW1

A halo for Julian Assange?

In his assessment of the P J Harvey edition of Today, Ian Burrell writes (3 January) that he “didn’t feel BBC editorial values were compromised”. Yet the programme contained a Thought for the Day from Julian Assange, who is the subject of a European arrest warrant. Assange used his slot to quote liberally from the Bible, creating something of a halo for himself. I can’t see how his inclusion in the programme and his shameless use of  his slot to sanctify himself does anything other than reflect badly on BBC editorial values.

David Head, Navenby, Lincolnshire

 I concur with Ian Burrell’s view that P J Harvey’s editorship of Today was “radical and refreshing”. There is a great need for uncensored, thoughtful news coverage which is not hedged about by dissimulation and toeing the party line.

More from left-leaning academicians and journalists such as John Pilger would present a more balanced, more believable and generally more thought-provoking programme, such as Harvey’s surely was.

Donna Thomson, Alsager, Cheshire

Britain’s face of welcome

If being greeted on arrival at Luton Airport by Keith Vaz doesn’t deter migrants, what will?

Dr John Doherty, Stratford-upon-Avon

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