UK response to migrant crisis 'clearly inadequate'
David Cameron's response to the migrant crisis has been condemned as "clearly inadequate" by leading charities and aid agencies who called for the UK to take a "fair and proportionate" share of refugees.
The group of 27 charities, including Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee and Amnesty International, said the Prime Minister's commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years was a welcome first step but failed to meet the UK's responsibilities for dealing with the "crisis on Europe's doorstep".
In an open letter, co-ordinated by the British Refugee Council, the organisations said the UK's offer to rehome refugees was "too slow, too low and too narrow".
Urging the Prime Minister to show a "new resolve" to deal with the problem, they said: "Last year saw 3,770 people drown and hundreds of thousands more endure a desperate march of misery across the continent."
The letter added: " Last year's announcement that the UK will resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years was a welcome first step, but given the numbers of people searching for safety across the globe, this response is clearly inadequate: it is too slow, too low and too narrow.
"The UK can and should be doing much more to ensure that refugees are not compelled to take life-threatening journeys or forced into smugglers' hands."
The organisations demanded that the country should take its share of refugees, including from those already within the EU and establish safe and legal routes to the UK.
Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said: "There are no easy answers to a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. However, the solution must not be to spend another year impassively watching on while desperate people drown or are forced to endure a march of misery across the continent as they try to find a safe haven or to be reunited with their loved ones.
"This year the Prime Minister must open his heart and show true statesmanship by welcoming far more refugees to the UK, enabling them to travel here safely and legally to live lives free from violence, tyranny and oppression."
Penny Lawrence, Oxfam's deputy chief executive, said: "Last year over a million desperate people made the hazardous journey into Europe seeking sanctuary.
"The numbers are huge but each one is a person: a brother, a mother, a daughter, a loved one. The Government's response to this crisis in Europe has been lacklustre at best, mean spirited at worse. In the face of such levels of human need the Government needs to do more to provide a safe haven."
Amnesty International UK's director Kate Allen said: "While David Cameron has grimly clung on to the idea that the UK government's approach to the refugee crisis is the right one, thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean and Aegean.
"The Prime Minister must now urgently change tack and support the creation of safe and legal routes which so many desperate refugees need to get to Europe, including to the UK. Without these, thousands more will perish. Let's not see a repeat in 2016 of the terrible scenes of death that were so common last year on Europe's beaches and in its seas."
A Government spokeswoman said: "The United Kingdom has a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to those who genuinely need our protection, with each claim for asylum judged on its individual merits.
"The terrible images we have seen in the last year have moved us all, strengthening our resolve to help prevent more people suffering such a fate.
"That is why we are resettling people directly from the countries neighbouring Syria, to which so many refugees have fled, and we have already met our target of welcoming 1,000 of the most vulnerable before Christmas.
"The UK is also playing a leading role providing life-saving aid to those most in need, both in the Syrian region, where we have pledged over £1.1 billion in humanitarian aid, and in Europe. It is essential that we focus our support where we can make the biggest impact.
"At the same time, we are working closely with other European countries to ensure systems are in place which properly address unfounded claims for asylum, so we can all respond more effectively to those genuinely in need of our protection."