Cameron: UK refugee acceptance not imposed by Brussels

David Cameron

David Cameron [Number 10/Flickr]

Britain will take 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps near the war-torn country’s borders over the next five years, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday (7 September), under pressure to address the crisis.

“We are proposing the UK should resettle up to 20,000 refugees over the life of this parliament,” Cameron said in a speech in the House of Commons.

“In doing so we will continue to show the world that this is a country of extraordinary compassion always standing up for our values and helping those in need.”

But Cameron insisted this was a UK decision and had nothing to do with the Commission-proposed quota system of burden sharing.

“Britain will play its part alongside our European partners. But Britain is able to decide its own approach,” Cameron said.

Cameron also said Britain was the biggest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syria crisis in Europe and second only to the United States globally.

He also confirmed that an extra £100 million would be set aside to help Syrian refugees, on top of £920 million already committed. This, the premier said, meant that the UK was contributing more than Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy, Hungary, Austria and Poland combined.

Britain will continue to take refugees from the camps and from elsewhere in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, he added.

“This provides refugees with a more direct and safe route to the UK, rather than risking the hazardous journey to Europe,” Cameron said.

Vulnerable refugees such as orphans will be given priority, according to the prime minister, who has come under mounting pressure after the image of a dead Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach sparked a groundswell of public sympathy.

>>Read: UK’s Cameron stays tough on refugees, draws Council of Europe criticism

The refugees will be funded for the first year of their stay, with the money coming from Britain’s foreign aid budget.

More than 40 local authorities in Britain have said they are willing to offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees following a request from Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper.

“The whole country has been deeply moved by the heart-breaking images we have seen over the past few days,” the Prime Minister added.

But he cautioned that Britain must “use our head and our heart” to address “the causes of the problem as well as the consequences” and pledged to “help to stabilise countries where the refugees are coming from”.

He said he would “seek a solution to the crisis in Syria, push for the formation of a new unity government in Libya and bust the criminal gangs”.

Oxfam welcomed Cameron’s announcement, calling it an important first step.

“It will give much-needed respite to people fleeing horrors most of us can only imagine,” said Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive.

“This is a good step forward, but its far from job done.” Britain has accepted 216 Syrian refugees over the past year and granted asylum to almost 5,000 Syrians since the conflict there broke out in 2011 – far fewer than countries like France, Germany and Sweden.

Britain opted out of a quota system for asylum seekers within the European Union despite growing calls in the EU for fairer distribution.

More than four million Syrians have fled the war.

Cameron said Britain had been working to “tackle the threat (of ISIS) at source” with British aircraft carrying out nearly 300 airstrikes over Iraq and conducting airborne surveillance missions over Syria.

Ben Jackson, CEO of Bond, a UK-based organisation for international development said:

“The Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK will take in up to 20,000 refugees from camps around Syria is an important welcome first step. However this number should not be set in stone and the government should be prepared to increase it if needed, to meet its fair share of responsibility for resettling refugees across EU member states – including those who’ve already arrived in Europe.

“The UK should support a comprehensive European plan when EU Ministers meet to address the crisis on 14th September.  This should include continuing search and rescue efforts, improving reception and processing facilities and ensuring better routes into Europe for those making the journey that are safe and legal.  There should also be increased aid commitments by all EU states to the affected region, and shared responsibility for resettlement across Europe.

“We support the use of UK aid to help resettle refugees in their first year in the UK as a short-term humanitarian response. In the longer term, aid should also continue to be focused on humanitarian and development efforts in affected regions to deal with the root causes which force people to flee their countries in the first place.”

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