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Migrant crisis pressure mounts on Europe's leaders

Published 02/09/2015

David Cameron and Angela Merkel's relationship could be harmed by the refugee crisis, the Prime Minister has been warned
David Cameron and Angela Merkel's relationship could be harmed by the refugee crisis, the Prime Minister has been warned

Pressure on Europe's leaders to act in the migrant crisis ratcheted up after shocking pictures emerged of the body of a Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach.

The child - seen lying face down on the shore - was reported to be one of a group of at least 12 people who drowned when their flimsy boats collapsed as they headed for the Greek island of Kos.

He was named in Turkish media reports as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi who fled last year with his family from the besieged town of Kobane to escape the advance of Islamic State militants.

His five-year-old brother, Galip, and their mother, Rhian, were also reported to be among the dead. Their father, Abdullah Kurdi, was said to have survived.

They were reported to be among a group of 23 people who set off in two boats from the Bodrum peninsula in Turkey early on Wednesday in an attempt to make the hazardous crossing to Greek territory.

Only nine are thought to have survived, while two are believed to be still missing.

In Britain, the publication of the pictures - released by a Turkish news agency - prompted renewed calls to David Cameron for the Government to open its doors to people fleeing the conflict in Syria.

Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper, who has suggested the UK could take 10,000 Syrian refugees, said Britain could not turn its back on their plight.

"When mothers are desperately trying to stop their babies from drowning when their boat has capsized, when people are being left to suffocate in the backs of lorries by evil gangs of traffickers and when children's bodies are being washed to shore, Britain needs to act," she said.

"It is heartbreaking what is happening on our continent. We cannot keep turning our backs on this."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the pictures of the little boy were "heartbreaking", adding "We must do more".

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said the Government's refusal to take more than a few hundred refugees was "morally wrong" and "politically foolish".

"There is a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep but we are disengaged, cold, and irrelevant," he said.

"Cameron's chances of winning meaningful concessions ahead of an EU referendum will disappear fast if he makes our country a pariah - turning his back on our neighbours and desperate refugees."

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, said the migrant crisis could no long be seen as "an abstract problem of people on the scrounge".

"This is a disgrace. That we are letting people die and seeing dead bodies on the beaches, when together, Europe is such a wealthy place," he told ITV News.

"What is screaming out is the human tragedy of this problem, to which we can be more generous."

Earlier however, Mr Cameron made clear that he he did not believe the crisis could be solved "simply by taking more and more refugees".

"We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world," he said.

"We are taking action right across the board, helping countries from which these people are coming, stabilising them and trying to make sure there are worthwhile jobs and stronger economies there."

However, the Prime Minister was also coming under pressure from Germany - which says it expects to take 800,000 refugees - at a time time when he needs Chancellor Angela Merkel's support in his bid to renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership.

German ambassador Peter Ammon said Mrs Merkel expected the UK to do its fair share.

"Britain has taken in refugees for centuries and I think not to your disadvantage and I think we will expect that all partners will make their best efforts to contribute to the solution of this problem," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

"Everybody knows how we feel about it and I think it's almost self evident."

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