David Cameron: UK to accept 'thousands' more Syrian refugees

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David Cameron: UK to accept 'thousands' more Syrian refugees

  • 4 September 2015
Media captionMr Cameron said the UK is the second-largest bilateral donor to the refugee crisis

The UK is to provide resettlement to "thousands" more Syrian refugees in response to the worsening humanitarian crisis, David Cameron has announced.

No specific figure has been decided but the prime minister said the extra refugees would come from United Nations camps bordering Syria, and not from among people already in Europe.

Britain, he said, would act with "head and heart" to help those most in need.

The UN has said EU countries should accept up to 200,000 refugees.

Earlier this week, Mr Cameron said accepting more people was not the simple answer to the situation, described by some as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two.

But speaking in Lisbon after talks with his Portuguese counterpart, Mr Cameron said the UK had a "moral responsibility" to help those displaced by the four-year conflict in Syria and more details would follow next week following discussions with organisations working in the region.

'Deeply moved'

Calls for the UK to take in more refugees have intensified after the publication of a picture of the body of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, washed up a Turkish beach.

Speaking to the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, the boy's aunt, Tima Kurdi, said his and his brother's death should be "a wake-up call for the whole world".

The government's approach to the crisis has continued to come under pressure from public and political figures, including:

  • Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Mr Cameron calling for the UK to accept more refugees and said Scotland would take in 1,000 "as a starting point"
  • Ex Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown said the PM's response had been "shameful"
  • Bristol's mayor urged residents of the city to use their spare rooms to help
  • petition calling on the UK to accept more refugees has got more than three times the 100,000 signatures needed for it to be eligible for a possible debate in Parliament
  • Analysis

  • Migrants protest against being taken to a refugee camp from a train that has been held at Bicske station on September 3, 2015 in Bicske, near Budapest, Hungary
  • By deputy political editor James Landale

    The prime minister isn't changing his argument.

    He still thinks opening up Europe's borders and agreeing quotas will not solve the refugee crisis. In fact, he thinks it would make it worse by increasing pull factors and encouraging people traffickers.

    But, as the crisis gets worse and the public and political pressure grows, the prime minister does now accept that Britain has a moral duty to do more.

    No targets have been agreed but his talk of taking thousands more is unlikely to satisfy his many critics who want Britain to take in tens of thousands of refugees and who have been outraged by his reluctance to act.

    Nearly 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in the last four years and the UK has accepted 216 Syrian refugees under a scheme to relocate the most vulnerable begun in early 2014.

    Addressing reporters in Lisbon, Mr Cameron said the £900m in British aid given to Syria, including food, aid and medical supplies, had stopped greater numbers from trying to reach Europe but said the UK would now go further in extending sanctuary to more refugees.

    Media captionThe BBC's Matthew Price filmed thousands of migrants sleeping at the international railway station in Budapest

    "Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the people, today I can announce that we will do more - providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees.

    "We will continue with our approach of taking them 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," he said.

    The PM added: "Britain will act with our head and our heart, providing refugee for those in need while working on long-term solutions to this crisis."

    How will plan work?

    Mr Cameron's plan suggests he may expand the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme - though the Home Office said details were not yet available.

    Under VPR, 216 Syrians have been brought to the UK since March 2014. People arriving in the UK in need of protection usually have to apply for asylum - and if this is granted they get "refugee" status.

    But people brought to Britain under VPR have not gone through this process. Instead, they have been granted Humanitarian Protection, a status normally used for people who "don't qualify for asylum" but would be at "real risk of suffering serious harm" in their home country.

    Like people granted refugee status, those given Humanitarian Protection can stay for five years, after which they can apply to settle in the UK.

    People in both categories have the right to work and access public funds.

    In Hungary, a stand-off between police and migrants on a train is continuing into a second day. On Thursday, police let the migrants board the train in Budapest but then tried to force them off at a refugee camp to the west of the capital.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the plight of the refugees is "one of the most appalling and enormous crises the world has seen".

    "There has to be a short term response of compassion," Justin Welby said. "There has to be a long term strategy of tackling conflict. It is an absolute moral duty."

    But UKIP leader Nigel Farage warned that giving "incentives" risked a "stampede" of people trying to get to Europe. "I'm sorry to say that I think the shocking image that we saw of that young boy and the deaths in those lorries actually become more likely," he said.


    Syrians seeking asylum in the UK


    people applied for asylum in the UK in the year ending June 2015


    were from Syria

    • 87% of Syrian requests for asylum were granted

    • 216 Syrians have been granted protection under a special scheme to relocate vulnerable people

    • 4,980 Syrian asylum seekers and their dependents have been granted asylum since 2011

    • 145 Syrian asylum seekers have been removed from the UK since 2011


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