Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Last January, following a concerted campaign supported by The Independent, the Government committed to resettling 500 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees

Independent Voices
Sunday 25 January 2015 21:46 GMT
Syrian refugee 'Nour' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country
Syrian refugee 'Nour' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country (Andrew Fox)

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you today to ask for your help. It’s been just over a year since some of us first wrote to you to ask you to offer resettlement places to refugees fleeing Syria. We were delighted when you responded and the Government’s Vulnerable Person’s Relocation (VPR) scheme was established.

You promised to resettle some of the most vulnerable people fleeing conflict in the region, a promise the UK is well placed to deliver, given our decade-long programme of resettling 750 people in similar situations from around the world every year under our fantastic Gateway Protection Programme.

Given your promise and the UK’s proud tradition of offering protection to those who desperately need it, we couldn’t have been more disappointed when we discovered the scale of your ambition for Syria’s refugees: to resettle just “several hundred people” over a three-year period.

We are writing today to ask you to urgently revisit the scale of the VPR scheme. We can do better. We must do better. People’s lives depend on it. Since you set up the VPR scheme, things in the Middle East have gone from bad to worse with the rise of IS [Isis] and the number of refugees fleeing Syria surpassing three million. Events in the region have fuelled the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Against this sombre backdrop, we cannot let [the] UNHCR’s desperate plea for countries to increase their resettlement pledges go unanswered. Others, including Germany and Austria, have responded by increasing the numbers of places they are offering. The US has pledged to offer thousands of places a year over many years. We are ashamed that the UK has so far failed to do likewise.

The UK’s leadership in giving aid to the region has been commendable but this is a complex crisis and we need to pull out all of the stops; resettling as many refugees as we can is an important part of the emergency response.

In a climate where children are sent to work in order to help their parents survive, where young girls are sold off as child brides and where torture victims are unable to rebuild their lives, every resettlement place countries like Britain provide is a lifeline.

Resettling “several hundred people” just isn’t good enough for a global leader. This issue isn’t about migration statistics or party politics, it’s about people. It’s about the values that we in Britain hold dear; compassion and humanity. Your choice is simple, yet historic. You are in a position to offer some of the most vulnerable people in the world safety in Britain. You can offer hope. You can offer a future.

Yours sincerely,

Bella Freud, OBE

Dan Snow

Emma Thompson

Grayson Perry, CBE

Juliet Stevenson, CBE

Ken Loach

Michael Palin, CBE

Stephen Frears

Sting, CBE

Vanessa Redgrave, CBE

Dame Vivienne Westwood

Michelle Dockery

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