Refugee crisis: Britain is turning a blind eye to refugees’ suffering, say aid agencies

Groups say that Britain should become a ‘safe haven’ and take its fair share of refugees already on the move

Charlie Cooper
Whitehall Correspondent
Thursday 14 April 2016 00:10 BST
Refugees wait in line for food near the Greek-Macedonian border
Refugees wait in line for food near the Greek-Macedonian border (Getty)

The UK is turning a blind eye to suffering on its doorstep and needs to “accept its moral responsibility” to help refugees in Europe, 13 aid agencies have said.

In a strong condemnation of the Government’s handling of the refugee crisis, Oxfam, the British Refugee Council and David Miliband’s International Rescue Committee, along with 10 other organisations, said that the failure of the UK and European governments to adequately respond to the arrival of more than a million refugees in Europe had “compounded the suffering” and contributed to a humanitarian crisis.

Britain’s response to the refugee crisis has focused on supporting Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – the countries hosting the most refugees. A donor conference in February hosted in London led to £7.7bn in aid being pledged to support refugees in the region fleeing the civil war in Syria.

But the charities said that such support for refugees in the Middle East was not enough, and that Britain should become a “safe haven” and take its fair share of refugees already on the move.

Maya Mailer, Oxfam’s head of humanitarian policy, said: “The UK is trying to pretend that this is someone else’s problem, and that refugees and migrants could and should be dealt with elsewhere. But people who are desperate will take huge risks to reach safety.

“The UK needs to accept its moral responsibility to offer a safe haven to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable – men, women and children who have been made homeless by war, violence and disasters.”

Britain has pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. This will not include refugees already in Europe. However, a number of unaccompanied child refugees on the Continent will be given sanctuary.

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The charities said the UK should create new safe and legal avenues for refugees to claim asylum in the UK, while contributing more in humanitarian aid to improve conditions for refugees trapped at borders and in transit, particularly in Greece.

British Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said: “While European leaders demonstrate a collective failure of political leadership and moral courage, people who have escaped war and tyranny are met with barbed wire and tear gas, mums are forced to bathe their infants in dirty puddles, and yet more refugee children drown on Europe’s shores.

“European governments, including the UK, must take a long hard look at themselves and ask is this the best they can do? We say that it doesn’t have to be this way. Today we’re presenting a roadmap for change which prioritises saving lives, solidarity and safe passage.”

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