Britain slammed for "incredibly small" refugee pledge

2015-09-08 17:28
(Andy Buchanan, AFP)

(Andy Buchanan, AFP)

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London - British Prime Minister David Cameron has been criticised for his pledge to accept an "incredibly small" number of people in response to the growing refugee crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries.

Parliament held an emergency debate on the refugee crisis on Tuesday after Cameron promised to accept 20 000 Syrians from UN-supported refugee camps over five years and gave no commitment to take any of the tens of thousands of refugees seeking resettlement across the European Union.

The UK Refugee Council cautiously welcomed Cameron's pledge but said it would not help "those who are standing on the shores of Libya, contemplating boarding a rickety boat, in a desperate attempt to reach family members already living in safety in the UK."

"We call on the prime minister to introduce other ways to allow refugees to reach the UK without having to put their lives in jeopardy," said Maurice Wren, the Refugee Council's chief executive.

Alexandra Innes, an international relations expert at the University of East Anglia, said Cameron's pledge, for an average of 4 000 additional refugees annually, was "a step in the right direction but still an incredibly small number in the face of the crisis."

"The UK has been very happy to take advantage of its geographic location and let countries such as Italy and Greece bear a massive burden, despite these countries having much weaker infrastructure to provide support," Innes said.

"Germany has recognised that, and has agreed to take a leading role in refugee resettlement," she said.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said late on Monday that Germany had the capacity to accommodate at least 500 000 refugees annually for the next few years.

Britain should accept at least 100 000 refugees if it "wants to meet its international obligations", Innes said, adding that it has "one of the lowest numbers for refugee resettlement of any developed country”. 

‘A very slim response”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also said Cameron had made "a very slim response" to the refugee crisis.

Speaking in parliament's upper house late on Monday, Welby suggested that "a problem of this scale can only morally and credibly be dealt with by widespread European collaboration”.

Jeremy Corbyn, the favourite to win this month's election for leader of the opposition Labour Party, also urged the government to accept refugees from camps inside the EU.

Saira Grant, legal and policy director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said Cameron's response was "not enough" because it only covered Syrian refugees and ignored the EU's quota system.

"And we absolutely have to [work with the EU] because that is the problem on our doorstep," Grant told London-based website Middle East Eye.

A ComRes poll of 1 000 British people for the BBC on Monday found "a large shift in attitudes towards allowing migrants coming to Britain via an EU quota system" since the last poll in June.

In the latest poll, 55% of respondents said Britain should accept refugees through an EU quota system.

Forty-five percent said they were against Britain joining the EU system, down from 59% in June, ComRes said.

Read more on:    david cameron  |  eu  |  uk  |  migrants

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