Prime Minister David Cameron agreed on Friday that Britain would take in “thousands more” Syrian refugees, after an outpouring of emotion over the image of a Syrian toddler lying dead on a Turkish beach put him under pressure to act.
Cameron gave no precise figures, but a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency told reporters in Geneva that the British move would improve the lives of 4,000 Syrians.
As Europe seems at a loss to cope with thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa seeking safety or better lives on the continent, many at home and abroad had accused Cameron’s government of being uncaring and inflexible.
Several of his own Conservative legislators and the human rights chief of the Council of Europe urged Britain to take in more refugees.
“Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of people, today I can announce that we will do more in providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees,” Cameron told reporters in Lisbon after meeting his Portuguese counterpart.
About 5,000 Syrians who made their own way to Britain since the start of the war in their country have been granted asylum, and another 216 were brought to Britain under a UN-backed relocation scheme.
“We will accept thousands more under these existing schemes and we keep them under review,” Cameron said, adding that the government would speak with humanitarian organisations and announce further details next week.
Others more welcoming
Other European countries such as Germany and Sweden have taken in far more refugees than Britain in recent times, and London declined to take part in a proposed EU scheme that would allocate quotas to member states.
Germany alone expects 800,000 people to file for asylum this year. About 25,000 people applied for asylum in Britain in the 12 months to March, of whom two-fifths were granted some form of protection.
Cameron’s announcement concerned only Syrians, the focus of popular anguish after the widespread publication of photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned with his brother and mother as the family tried to cross from Turkey to Greece.
“We will continue with our approach of taking them (Syrian refugees) directly from refugee camps. This provides them with a more direct and safe route to the United Kingdom rather than risking the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many of their lives,” Cameron said.
Cameron had previously insisted that Britain was already doing its bit, not least by sending aid to Syrian refugee camps in the Middle East and dispatching the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean to help rescue migrants from unsafe boats. (Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
UKIP attacks Merkel
German leader Angela Merkel has encouraged more refugees to risk their lives in attempts to reach Europe by saying her country would take more asylum-seekers, the leader of Britain’s anti-European Union UK Independence Party (UKIP) said on Friday.
Nigel Farage said he was appalled by the photographs of the three-year Syrian boy washed up on a beach in Turkey and said there was a risk of more deaths because Europe has said it plans to accept more refugees.
“The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we prevent more appalling photographs like that? How do we prevent things like the 71 people who were found dead in the back of that truck in Austria the other day?,” Farage said.
Merkel’s stance had increased the incentive for people to try to reach Europe and the images of migrants trying to cram onto trains at a Budapest railway station this week looked like the beginning of a “stampede,” he said.
“It is a very dangerous thing, I think, that she has done,” Farage said at the launch of UKIP’s campaigning ahead of Britain’s EU membership referendum, due before the end of 2017.
He added: “I genuinely think and believe that Chancellor Merkel, compounding the pull factors this week, is more likely to make us see more of those kind of photographs.”
Aylan Kurdi, his mother and brother, were today buried on Friday in their home town of Kobani and their distraught father begged Arab countries to do more to help Syria’s refugees.
Abdullah Kurdi, the boys’ father, wept as he watched Aylan’s tiny body being placed into a coffin. It was afterwards lowered into the ground, along with those of his brother Galip, five, and their mother Rehan, 35, in the ‘Martyrs’ Cemetery’ in Kobani, a mainly Kurdish town in northern Syria near the Turkish border.
“I want Arab governments – not European countries – to see (what happened to) my children, and because of them to help people,” he told reporters earlier at the border crossing as ambulances ferried the three bodies from Turkey into Syria.
Air for 90 minutes
In Austria, police said the 71 dead migrants found alongside a motorway near the Hungarian border were Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan nationals but not a single one of them has been identified. They included a baby girl and a young boy.
The people had had enough air for no more than 90 minutes and appeared to have slowly lost consciousness, suffocating before the truck had crossed from Hungary. The driver was among five people arrested in Hungary, they added.
In southern Hungary, around 2,300 migrants in the reception camp were threatening to follow 300 who had already broken out unless their demands were not met within two hours, police said.
Many migrants are refusing to register in Hungary, fearing this will prevent them from getting to their preferred final destination, often Germany. Police gave chase to the 300 migrants and called a riot unit to secure the camp near the town of Roszke.
Elsewhere, hundreds of migrants started walking from Budapest’s eastern railway station, saying they were heading to Austria. On the Greek island of Lesbos about 200 unregistered migrants trying to board a ship on Friday scuffled with police and coastguard officials.
The UN refugee chief’s appeal contrasted with the tough line from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who warned about the consequences of “a mass inflow of people”, which he said could possibly number tens of millions.
Guterres said the EU needed to help more migrants enter legally and provide about 200,000 relocation places, according to a preliminary estimate, as well as provide more support to countries under pressure such as Greece, Italy and Hungary.
“It now has no other choice but to mobilise full force around this crisis. The only way to solve this problem is for the Union and all member states to implement a common strategy, based on responsibility, solidarity and trust,” Guterres said.
More than 300,000 people have risked their lives this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, and more than 2,600 people have died doing so.
Turkish authorities stopped 57 people trying to cross to the Greek island of Kos on Thursday night, as migrants remained undeterred by Aylan’s drowning on the same route.
Hungary’s parliament passed a series of laws on Friday to control the flow of migrants into the country, giving police more authority and setting out strict punishments including prison terms for illegal border crossing.
Orbán defended his government’s hardline stand on the crisis. “The reality is that Europe is threatened by a mass inflow of people. Many tens of millions of people could come to Europe,” he said before the laws were passed.
“Now we talk about hundreds of thousands but next year we will talk about millions and there is no end to this.”
“All of a sudden we will see that we are in a minority in our own continent,” Orbán told public radio.