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Migration crisis: pressure mounts on Cameron over refugees

Thursday, 03 September 2015

Pressure comes from senior UN official and rising number of Tory MPs after pictures of drowned Syrian boy published.

David Cameron is facing increased calls for Britain to take more refugees from the war-torn Middle East as the pressure is ratcheted up by a senior UN official, as well as a growing number of Conservative MPs, after the publication of shocking pictures of a drowned Syrian boy.

The former Conservative chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi called on Downing Street to relent and take thousands more refugees, but there is no sign yet that Cameron is willing to shift in the face of a public, political and media outcry to change course.

Peter Sutherland, the UN special representative on international migration, said while some countries were “massively bearing the burden” of the migration crisis, the UK was among those that could do more.

Warsi said Britain must be prepared to be humane by taking further refugees, adding that it should focus on extra help for unaccompanied children as well as victims of sexual violence. Urging Cameron to rethink, she said: “There is no criticism of the government in listening. There is no shame in responding to a humanitarian crisis. What we have seen across the board are calls to think again.”

It is expected that both Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne, will be giving interviews on Thursday and at the very least there will be a change of tone.

In what is likely to be the tip of an iceberg, a number of Tory MPs urged a more flexible stance. Tom Tugendhat, Conservative MP for Tonbridge, said on Twitter: “I’ve spoken to many in west Kent who want us to do more and I agree with them. Our common humanity demands action at home and abroad.” But he has also recognised the complexity of the position and the possibility that many travelling to Europe are economic migrants.

David Burrowes, MP for Enfield and vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, said the government “should accept thousands, not hundreds”, adding “at the very least we should accept 1% of refugees because we accept more than 1% responsibility”.

His view was echoed at the weekend by Johnny Mercer, a former soldier and MP for Plymouth Moor View. He said: “Mothers trying to keep their children afloat on a lifeboat should not think Britain will turn its back. You do not choose where you are born and we should use that to do what we can.”

Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon, tweeted: “We are nothing without compassion. Pic should make us all ashamed. We have failed in Syria. I am sorry little angel. RIP.”

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, tweeted:

Nicola Blackwood, the Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said Britain had a proud record of providing sanctuary to those fleeing conflict. “We cannot be the generation that fails this test of humanity,” she tweeted.

By 11am more than 114,000 people had signed a petition to parliament asking MPs to “accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK”.

It claims: “The UK is not offering a promotional asylum in comparison with UK counterparts. We cannot allow refugees who have risked their lives to escape horrendous conflict and violence left living in dire unsafe and inhumane conditions in Europe.”

A petition that exceeds more than 100,000 has to be considered by parliament for debate, although in practice MPs are bound to debate the crisis, probably in the form of a government statement on Monday when the Commons returns from its summer recess.

However, a Downing Street source, while accepting the image of a dead boy on a Turkish beach was shocking, continued to suggest the government did not believe taking a few thousand refugees would solve the crisis. The UK has taken over 200 vulnerable refugees in the past year and granted asylum to 5,000 Syrians since 2011.

Downing Street pointed out the UK had been at the forefront of providing aid to the refugee camps on the borders of Syria.

Speaking on BBC2’s Newsnight, SutherIand said the crisis demanded a united response from Europe’s leaders and that Britain needed to play its part.

“I think that this country can do more. The only way to solve this problem is by a united European response and that means sharing responsibility for appalling suffering,” he said.

“This is a humanitarian crisis that Europe has not experienced in our time of a dimension which demands a common response.

“At the moment it is true to say that a number of countries are massively bearing the burden of this.”

While Sutherland said Germany, Sweden, France and Italy were among those doing their bit, the government spokesman insisted the UK was also playing its part.

“These photos are clearly shocking. This is why we continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria – including as the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, having already pledged £900m,” the spokesman said.

“In addition to this financial support, we have granted protection to almost 5,000 Syrians since the crisis began and continue to tackle the organised trafficking gangs seeking to profit from this human misery.”

Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham called for parliament to debate whether the UK should take in more refugees.

Burnham urged Cameron to call a debate and vote on the refugee crisis when parliament returns next week. “Over this summer, we have seen an unfolding humanitarian crisis of epic proportions across the Mediterranean and mainland Europe,” he said.

“But the response of David Cameron and his ministers has veered from the inadequate to the misjudged. His government’s inaction as the situation has escalated is a stain on our nation’s conscience.

“If the prime minister refuses to act, then my first act as leader would be to apply to the Speaker for an emergency debate on the refugee crisis.”

His comments came after his Labour leadership rival Yvette Cooper suggested the UK could take 10,000 Syrian refugees.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said the government’s refusal to take more than a few hundred refugees was morally wrong and “politically foolish” while Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “We must do more.”

Source: The Guardian

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