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Government response to migrant crisis 'increasingly inadequate', say bishops

Published 18/10/2015

Bishop of Durham Paul Butler said it is
Bishop of Durham Paul Butler said it is "disheartening that we have not received any substantive reply" from David Cameron

Church of England bishops have accused the Government of an "increasingly inadequate" response to the migrant crisis and called for at least 50,000 Syrian refugees to be taken in over the next five years.

The CoE has released a letter, signed by 84 bishops, which was sent to Prime Minister David Cameron in September, urging him to make a "meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily".

Amid mounting public pressure to strengthen Britain's response to the migrant crisis on Europe's borders, the Government pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.

The bishops write in the letter: "We believe such is this country's great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit that we could feasibly resettle at least 10,000 people a year for the next two years, rising to a minimum of 50,000 in total over the five-year period you foresaw in your announcement.

"Such a number would bring us into line with comparable commitments made by other countries. It would be a meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily."

The bishops also pledge to encourage their churches to provide housing and foster care to refugees as well as to support the Government in its efforts.

They also called for the creation of a National Welcome and Resettlement Board, to try to mirror the successful work carried out to help cope with past refugee crises in the 1950s and 1970s. This has been introduced since the letter was written.

It counts the Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, as its co-chairman but he says it is "disheartening that we have not received any substantive reply" from Mr Cameron.

Speaking on behalf of the bishops, he said: "The Archbishop of York recently said that the current situation has rightly been described as a refugee crisis, but it is also a time of opportunity for us as a country and for our wider continent. The opportunity before us is to rise above narrow self-interest, however defined, and to embrace the highest parts of our humanity.

"We recognise that both the Prime Minister and his Government responded to calls from the country for there to be a programme of resettlement and we are grateful to him for responding to those calls.

"However there is a real urgency to this issue with those increasingly being forced from their land as their homes are literally bombed into the ground. As the fighting intensifies, as the sheer scale of human misery becomes greater, the Government's response seems increasingly inadequate to meet the scale and severity of the problem.

"It is disheartening that we have not received any substantive reply despite an assurance from the Prime Minister that one would be received. There is an urgent and compelling moral duty to act which we as bishops are offering to facilitate alongside others from across civil society."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "We have announced that the UK will resettle an additional 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this parliament.

"It is absolutely right that Britain should fulfil its moral responsibility to help the refugees, just as we have done so proudly throughout our history. But in doing so, we must use our head and our heart by pursuing a comprehensive approach that tackles the causes of the problem as well as the consequences.

"The UK is the second largest donor in the world after America, helping refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Our total contribution to the Syrian crisis is more than £1.12 billion."

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "No country in Europe is doing more in Syria than we are. We are spending a billion pounds helping the refugees in the refugee camps in Syria and now we have announced that we will take 20,000 - 5,000 a year for the rest of this Parliament - which is a number we think we can reasonably accommodate.

"But the real issue is out in Syria."

Appearing on Murnaghan on Sky News, Alex Salmond, the former Scottish first minister, said the UK Government's response to the crisis in Syria has been "inadequate".

He said: "It is obviously inadequate in terms of numbers but it is also this idea that you can ignore the refugees who have arrived in Europe.

"That's not tenable. It's not tenable because the countries who are closest on proximity can't bear that pressure alone.

"You have to act in terms of solidarity."

Stephen Crabb, the Welsh Secretary, defended the Government's record, telling Murnaghan on Sky News: "Our response has been one of compassion.

"We have been at the coal face there for the last four years - long before the bishops started taking a campaigning interest in this issue."

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