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UK must make decision on refugee relocation scheme - European Commission

Published 30/01/2016

The UK has opted out of the EU scheme to relocate refugees
The UK has opted out of the EU scheme to relocate refugees

The European Commission has said it is up to the UK to decide whether to join a refugee programme that has rehoused a tiny fraction of the 160,000 people awaiting relocation.

Just 400 refugees - 0.25% of the total - have been relocated four months into the two-year scheme to alleviate the pressure on refugee "hot spots" in Greece and Italy.

The UK and Denmark has opted out of the scheme, which has been adopted by all of the other 26 member states.

Ireland also has the right to opt out but it has volunteered to take a proportion of the refugees.

The SNP said the UK Government has "a moral duty to take in our fair share of refugees and must do more".

But the Commission said it "respects the UK's special status under the treaties", in relation to its decision to opt out of relocating people who have already entered the EU.

It has also welcomed the UK's efforts to resettle thousands of people currently outside the EU who have been approved for refugee status or humanitarian protection.

A European Commission spokeswoman said: "There is always contact between all member states and the Commission at all levels, at ministerial level and also at expert level.

"These proposals have been discussed with the member states and the council.

"Discussions are taking place jointly and then afterwards it is up to the member states with an opt-out to decide if they want to participate or not."

Stephen Gethins, the SNP's Westminster spokesman on Europe, said: "Europe is facing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

"We should be doing everything we can to help those in need of protection, just as we would expect others to do for us in similar circumstances.

"It is a national embarrassment that we have a Prime Minister who refers to refugees in derogatory terms and a UK government that has tried to do as little to help as it can get away with.

"We have a moral duty to take in our fair share of refugees and the UK government must do more."

Richard Harrington, Minister for Syrian Refugees, said: "Our vulnerable persons resettlement scheme will help up to 20,000 Syrians in need of protection: more than 1,000 refugees have already been helped under this scheme and earlier this week we announced that we have asked the office of the UNHCR to lead on a new initiative to resettle unaccompanied refugee children from countries around Syria.

"As of last week, the European Commission's emergency scheme had resulted in the relocation of just 331 people.

"We are committed to resettling directly from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to ensure we target our help at those most in need, deter people from attempting perilous journeys which have already led to so many tragic deaths and prevent criminal gangs from preying on human misery to profit any further from trafficking.

"We have pledged over £1.1 billion in humanitarian aid to Syria and neighbouring countries, making us the second largest bilateral donor after the US. And we are providing nearly £25 million in response to the Mediterranean migration crisis, which includes life-saving humanitarian assistance within Europe."

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