Refugee crisis: 'It's time David Cameron found his humanity. It's time he led by example, not making excuses' – pressure grows on PM to act

'How many more children need to perish before Cameron can be persuaded to take in more Syrian refugees?' - Charities tell The Independent it is time for action

Thursday 03 September 2015 09:11
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David Cameron has so far refused to change the Government's policy to take in more than just a few hundred Syrian refugees
David Cameron has so far refused to change the Government's policy to take in more than just a few hundred Syrian refugees

David Cameron has been told he must "find his humanity" rather than "shirking and making excuses" in his refusal to open Britain's doors to more than just a few hundred Syrian refugees.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, charities rounded on the Prime Minister's stubborn response to the growing refugee crisis that has overflown to Europe over the summer after pictures emerged of a young boy, thought to be Syrian, lying face down in the sand after dying in an apparent attempt to flee his country.

Amnesty International accused Mr Cameron of showing a "shocking lack of leadership and courage," calling on him to "live up to the UK's international obligations" and increase the number of Syrians granted asylum in the UK.

More than 2,500 refugees have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year as they flee the humanitarian crisis in Syria

Accepting that resettling Syrian refugees in the UK will not solve the crisis, Oxfam nonetheless said it would "transform the lives of thousands" if Mr Cameron raised the number given sanctuary in the UK from the current "paltry" number of 216 so far.

Maurice Wren, chief executive of the Refugee Council, asks Mr Cameron: "How many more people need to perish before our Prime Minister can be persuaded to abandon the fixation with border control?"

He accused Mr Cameron of undermining the UK's "proud reputation as a haven for refugees," insisting the UK is "more than capable" of providing many more refugees sanctuary.

Speaking to The Independent, Mark Goldring, Oxfam's UK chief executive, said: "Resettling refugees from Syria will not solve the crisis, but it could transform the lives of thousands.

"Offering to resettle 10,000 refugees, rather than the paltry 216 so far, is well within the reach of the UK - a nation with one of the world's biggest economies and a history of welcoming people fleeing persecution. This country should be leading by example, not shirking and making excuses."

The Government insists it is at the "forefront" of the international response to the humanitarian crisis stemming from the civil war in Syria, pointing to its £900m of humanitarian aid and its record on granting asylum to almost 5,000 Syrians since 2011.

This figure relates to the number of Syrians given refuge in the UK through the usual asylum process. These refugees are people who have arrived in the UK - either legally or illegaly - and applied for asylum, as opposed to the UK actively offering places to some of the four million who have fled Syria since 2011.

Only 216 Syrians have been granted a place in the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, which was set up in March 2014 in response to The Independent’s campaign to force the Government to open its doors to the most vulnerable survivors of the Syrian civil war.

Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee expert, said it was time for Mr Cameron to finally take leadership over the crisis. “What we are seeing is a catastrophic failure on the part of most of Europe’s leaders as they face the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

“David Cameron’s latest refusal to commit to taking in more refugees shows a shocking lack of leadership and courage.

“Yes, the UK must do more to promote stability elsewhere in the world, but that will take years. Meanwhile, men, women and children fleeing conflicts and persecution, which the West has long ignored or done far too little to prevent, are dying now at Europe’s external and internal borders.

“It is time for Cameron to find the humanity so lacking in his response to this crisis so far, and to live up to the UK’s international obligations to protect those who so desperately need our help.”

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said the pictures of the boy washed up on the Turkish beach must act as a "wakeup call" to Mr Cameron. "No parent should ever be forced to risk the life of their child in this way," he told The Independent. “We urge our government to commit to more safe and legal routes, including increased resettlement programmes, for people fleeing conflicts in countries like Syria."

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