Syrian refugees minister refuses to tell MPs how many have arrived
The Syrian refugees minister has refused to reveal how many people have arrived in Britain under the Government's expanded resettlement scheme.
Richard Harrington said he was not prepared to provide a "running commentary" on the numbers brought to the UK since David Cameron announced plans to accept 20,000 refugees from camps around the war-ravaged country over the next five years.
He told MPs that he knew how many people had arrived since the initiative was launched last month but repeatedly declined to give figures.
Mr Harrington, who was appointed to the newly created ministerial post last month, said: "I don't think anything will be helped by my giving a running commentary on numbers."
His refusal to disclose the information drew criticism from Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee.
He said: "We will have to write to the Prime Minister now and tell him that we need this figure because frankly I think it is unsatisfactory for you to come before this committee and not have the numbers. The public is very interested in this."
Mr Harrington told the panel the resettlement programme was being "hugely increased" to meet the 20,000 commitment.
He said: "I would say the pace of people arriving is much the same as it has been over the last few months and it is now gathering traction.
"I am sure in the new year or whenever it might be in the future if I were asked to come back you would be very impressed. I've been doing this job for four weeks."
The arrival of the first refugees following Mr Cameron's announcement was confirmed on September 22.
Mr Harrington said refugees brought to Britain since the new scheme was announced have been accommodated by three or four local authorities.
Mr Vaz said he had calculated that meeting the 20,000 target would require an average of around 350 arrivals each month.
The minister replied: "Were it averaged out I think that would be very reasonable."
Asked if the Government is on target for that rate, he said: "I believe we will be on target when the increased traction of the scheme comes into fruition."
However, Mr Harrington added: "I would just like to make it clear that whilst the mathematical calculation is correct, in practice some quarters may be up and some quarters may be down. I don't think it's right to judge on a short period of time."
Mr Vaz later clarified that the correct number was 384 per month.
The Government has come under pressure from some quarters to accept more Syrian refugees.
Earlier this week more than 300 lawyers including senior former judges signed a statement describing the response to the crisis as "deeply inadequate".
Asked about the criticism, Mr Harrington said: "I think what they are saying is very selective. They are implying that all this country is doing for the Syrian refugees is taking 20,000 people."
Britain has provided £1.1 billion in assistance to support refugees in the region, making it the second largest bilateral donor.