Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

PM urged over Syria refugee crisis

A Lebanese airport worker unloads aid supplies in Beirut which will be given to Syrian refugees in the country (AP)

Britain should take in more refugees from the Syrian war to ease the mounting humanitarian crisis in the region, campaigners have urged.

The Refugee Council, Refugee Action, and the Scottish and Welsh Refugee Councils urged David Cameron to establish a "substantial and co-ordinated resettlement programme".

Germany has arranged to take in 5,000 Syrians, including women at risk, people with serious medical conditions and others with special needs - and granted them the right to work for two years. The groups want the British Government to put in place a similar arrangement to ease the pressure on Syria's neighbours and set an example to other European countries to do the same.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, they said providing aid to the region was no longer sufficient as Syria's neighbours were now being utterly overwhelmed by the exodus from the conflict.

More than 97% of the two million people who have so far fled the bloodshed are being hosted by countries in the immediate region, the bulk in huge camps that are struggling to cope. As of the end of August, this comprised 110,000 in Egypt, 168,000 in Iraq, 515,000 in Jordan, 716,000 in Lebanon, and 460,000 in Turkey.

Mr Cameron has led calls for the international community to massively increase its contributions to the United Nations appeal, which remains massively below its target level. But the campaigners said that while the UK's lead on international aid was very welcome, it needed to do more to help directly.

Syrians "with a connection to the UK", especially the families of those already granted refugee status in this country, should be helped to come to this country, they urged the PM.

There should also be "an immediate programme of emergency humanitarian evacuations" of refugees judged most in need and urgent work to establish "a substantial and co-ordinated resettlement programme" in the UK and other EU member states.

The acceptance rate of asylum claims by Syrians arriving in the UK by their own means is presently high but the groups said others should be assisted to make the journey and guaranteed asylum.

"We are greatly alarmed at the scale of the current refugee crisis and are aware that these concerns are shared by the UK Government whose commitment to date to providing very substantial humanitarian aid is to be commended," they wrote. "However, we understand from the UNHCR that the crisis has escalated to such an extent that the countries bordering Syria are struggling to cope with the numbers of refugees, despite the financial support offered by the UK and others. We now believe that additional practical support, in the form of practical responsibility sharing measures, must be provided to help those displaced by the Syrian conflict and to relieve some of the pressure on Syria's neighbours."

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