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UK 'must help more Syrian refugees'

Published 18/06/2015

Home Secretary Theresa May has addressed the families of those at risk of being lured into extremism
Home Secretary Theresa May has addressed the families of those at risk of being lured into extremism

Charities have called on David Cameron to commit to opening Britain's doors to thousands of Syrian refugees after he announced plans to help just hundreds more fleeing Bashar Assad's brutal regime.

The Prime Minister said he intends to "modestly expand" the scheme to take in those who escape the country as it is torn apart by civil war and the rise of Islamic State (IS) extremists, but campaigners insisted the UK "can do far more".

Britain had previously committed to take in 500 migrants from Syria over three years and sources indicated that the Government was now prepared to accept "a few hundred more".

The Prime Minister said: "Today I can announce that we will work with the United Nations to modestly expand this national scheme so that we provide resettlement for the most vulnerable fleeing Syria, those who cannot be adequately protected in neighbouring countries."

Charities urged Mr Cameron to "go the extra mile" by offering a safe haven to thousands of those desperately fleeing for their lives.

Amal Kaoua, Save the Children's senior conflict and humanitarian advisor, said: "Any increase in the numbers of people accepted on the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme is welcome, but a few hundred more will not be enough.

"Syria is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time - there are four million refugees from the war, most of them living in dangerously over-burdened neighbouring countries.

"The UK has been generous in giving aid to the region, but many of the most vulnerable refugees, those with serious injuries and illnesses for example, cannot stay living under plastic sheeting in camps.

"They need our help, and Britain can do far more. If tiny Lebanon can take in more than a million Syrian refugees, the UK could take in thousands, rather than hundreds. Our country has a proud history of welcoming children and families fleeing war and persecution and we should honour that now"

Refugee Council head of advocacy Lisa Doyle said: "This news, quite simply, will transform people's lives. Each resettlement place Britain provides will be life changing, if not life-saving for some of the most desperate men, women and children on the planet.

"However, we are in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis in recent memory and this commitment still pales in comparison to pledges made by other European countries.

"Britain has a proud tradition of protecting and welcoming refugees: the Government must uphold this reputation by going the extra mile and offering a safe haven to thousands, not hundreds, of refugees from Syria who so desperately need it."

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: "An increase, albeit small, in resettlement numbers is a really positive first step from the Government. But we urgently need a meaningful response that is consistent with the scale of the crisis.

"We are witnessing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. In response, Germany is taking 30,000 Syrian refugees. We now need a commitment from the Prime Minister to resettle thousands not hundreds of people who've been forced to flee their home in fear of their life.

"In the past, Britain rescued refugees from conflicts in Kosovo, Bosnia and Vietnam. Now it's time for us to lead the way once again."

Mr Cameron made the announcement in a speech at a security conference in Bratislava where he warned of the dangers posed by people in Britain who "quietly condone" Islamic State's (IS) extremist ideology.

Highlighting the need for British Muslim communities to take more responsibility for countering radicalisation, Mr Cameron said the threat posed by IS, also known as Isil, was "formidable and growing".

He said: "It is what we have seen this week with the youngest suicide bomber in our history in Iraq. It is what we may have seen with three women and their young children who went to Saudi Arabia to perform their pilgrimage and who have thought to have gone to Isil territory.

"Only if we are clear about this threat and its causes can we tackle it.

"The cause is ideological. It is an Islamist extremist ideology, one that says the West is bad and democracy is wrong, that women are inferior and homosexuality is evil.

"It says religious doctrine trumps the rule of law and caliphate trumps nation state and it justifies violence in asserting itself and achieving its aims. The question is: How do people arrive at this world view?"

He continued: "I am clear that one of the reasons is that there are people who hold some of these views who don't go as far as advocating violence, but do buy into some of these prejudices, giving the extreme Islamist narrative weight and telling fellow Muslims 'you are part of this'.

"This paves the way for young people to turn simmering prejudice into murderous intent. To go from listening to firebrand preachers online to boarding a plane to Istanbul and travelling onward to join the jihadis."

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