Refugee crisis: Britain must be prepared to send troops into Syria to set up safe havens, says former Tory Cabinet minister

Andrew Mitchell said creating safe havens on the Syrian border would be the best way of tackling the refugee crisis

Matt Dathan
Monday 07 September 2015 11:58 BST
A refugee camp at the international border crossing Bab Al Hawa, between Syria and Turkey (Chris Huby/MSF)
A refugee camp at the international border crossing Bab Al Hawa, between Syria and Turkey (Chris Huby/MSF)

David Cameron should be prepared to consider sending British troops into Syria to set up safe havens for refugees, a former Conservative Cabinet minister has said.

Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary, called for the UN to organise the “humanitarian safe enclaves” in Syria, insisting it was the best way to tackle the growing refugee crisis that has spilled over from the Middle East into Europe.

More than four million Syrians have fled the country and roughly the same number have been displaced internally.

Andrew Mitchell served as International Development Secretary under David Cameron in the last government

The Prime Minister will set out how many Syrian refugees will be taken in by Britain in a statement to MPs later today but has insisted the best way to help solve the humanitarian crisis was to provide aid to refugee camps surrounding the country.

He has been told by Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary and Labour leadership contender, that foreign aid money being sent to local councils in the UK to resettle refugees must not reduce support for areas around Syria.

George Osborne announced the move to divert international development funds to help local authorities house refugees yesterday.

George Osborne has suggested the Government could push for a vote to bomb Syria even if the next Labour leader opposes interventoin

But the Labour leadership hopeful demanded to know why the Prime Minister was not taking money from the Government reserve, which she said had happened previously. “The reserve was created to provide support when extreme things happen,” she told the Today programme.

Responding to suggestions made by the Chancellor yesterday that the Government could seek Parliament’s backing for airstrikes against Isis targets in Syria, Ms Cooper said the Government would have to explain how it would help the situation in order to secure Labour’s support.

A move by the coalition government to bomb President Assad’s regime in Syria in 2013 was defeated by MPs after Labour opposed the move, a decision that Mr Osborne described as “one of the worst decisions the House of Commons has ever made”.

"I think with something as serious as military intervention you have to look at what the Government is proposing," Ms Cooper said.

"They have to be clear what it is they want to do that will help. In Syria you have the problem with both Isil and (President Bashar) Assad.

"In Syria what the whole Government needs to explain, do they want to help Assad?"

She added: "Asking an opposition to respond without seeing what the clear proposals are would not be responsible."

Addressing the refugee crisis, Mr Mitchell suggested the creation of UN safe havens should be built in Syria near its border with Turkey or along its southern border with Jordan, which he said could protect millions of refugees from the conflict that has engulfed the country over the past four years.

"Ideally Britain would not be involved in putting troops on the ground but we should be willing to consider that," the Tory MP said.

"Bear in mind that this is not the offensive action by troops that people in Britain sometimes recoil from, it is a defensive action, it would need to be done under the UN charter, probably with a chapter seven mandate which enables them to defend themselves.

"We would be talking about an international body hopefully composed of troops from Jordan and Egypt and other countries in the region willing to shoulder the burden."

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