UK to take 'thousands' more Syrian refugees

  • 05/09/2015
British Prime Minister David Cameron (Reuters)
British Prime Minister David Cameron (Reuters)

Britain will take in thousands more Syrian refugees, Prime Minister David Cameron says amid growing pressure at home and abroad to address the crisis.

"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," he told reporters on a visit to Lisbon on Friday (local time).

"We will continue with our approach of taking them from the refugee camps," he added, in a reference to UN camps on the Syrian border.

"This provides them with a more direct and safe route to the UK, rather than risking the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many lives."

Cameron did not specify how many more refugees Britain would accept, saying only that more details would be announced next week and that the resettlement scheme would be kept "under review".

"Britain will act with our head and our heart, providing refuge for those in need while working on a long-term solution to the Syria crisis," Cameron said.

Britain has faced mounting pressure to accept a greater share of Syrian refugees, especially after the publication this week of harrowing images of a three-year-old Syrian toddler found dead on a Turkish beach.

A petition to the parliament urging Britain to accept more refugees has garnered nearly 360,000 signatures, while campaign group Avaaz said 2000 Britons had volunteered to host refugee families.

Several editorials in Britain harked back to the times when Britain accepted huge numbers of refugees before and after World War II, and around the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Britain has accepted 216 Syrian refugees under a special government scheme over the past year and about 5000 Syrians have been granted asylum since the conflict there broke out in 2011 – far fewer than countries like France, Germany and Sweden.

More than four million Syrians have fled the war, many of them taking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

On the streets of London, views on the issue varied.

"I can't believe that we haven't done anything before now," said 45-year-old Victoria Buurman as she walked with her shopping in central London.

"I think it's disgusting that we have to get to a point where children are dying before we even recognise that we're not acting morally. It's horrific," she said, breaking into tears.

But Souvik Ghosh, a 26-year-old research student from India, said Britain should not take any more migrants.

"There should be some limitations, OK? Because otherwise this country's economic system will be overflowed," he said.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, has said he is "seriously concerned" by Cameron's position.

"While it is true that long-term peace should be brought to Syria and other war-torn countries, it is also true that the UK has a legal and moral obligation to offer shelter to those who flee war and persecution," he said.

"The truth is that at the moment the UK is doing much less than other European countries."