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UK 'set to take Syrian refugees'

Britain is looking at how it can take in vulnerable Syrian refugees, Foreign Secretary William Hague said today.

Home Secretary Theresa May is working on the plans and the Government will have more to say in the coming days, according to Mr Hague.

He said Prime Minister David Cameron did "open the door" to the possibility of Syrian refugees being welcome in the UK after signalling he was happy to look at the argument for helping people who do not belong in camps.

And Mr Hague said he believed there is a case to help the most vulnerable people.

The Government has come under increasing pressure to change its stance from Labour plus Tory and Lib Dem MPs.

Immigration Minister Mark Harper last week insisted the United Nations programme for resettling vulnerable Syrians in safe countries only provides token relief and Britain would not join it.

Mr Cameron also told Prime Minister's Questions that he believed Britain was leading the world in delivering aid to Syria and was meeting its obligations to asylum seekers.

He rebuffed calls from Labour leader Ed Miliband to sign up to the United Nations refugee quota scheme although accepted there are "very difficult cases of people who don't belong in refugee camps".

Mr Cameron signalled he was ready to take in some of the most vulnerable refugees from camps in and around Syria.

Labour responded by announcing it would stage a vote on Wednesday calling for Britain to sign up to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees appeal for Western countries to accept 30,000 of those trapped in the region.

Addressing Mr Cameron's comments, Mr Hague told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show today: "He did open the door and the Home Secretary is working on that and we'll have more to say on that in the coming days.

"I think there is a case for particularly helping people who are particularly vulnerable."

Asked if this was a reference to Christians, Mr Hague said: "Well, no, well that's what the Home Secretary is working on - how we try to help people who actually might need to get away from that region altogether, who are particularly vulnerable to violence... this is still being worked on, so we'll have to let, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary will discuss that further.

"But we are looking at such a scheme. I do want to emphasise though that whatever we can do on that our main effort to help people will remain what we do out there.

"British aid is helping a third of a million of people with people every day, a million with drinking water, a third of a million a month with medical consultations.

"And you can only do that out there in the region, that's got to remain our main effort."

Sources close to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted last week that the Liberal Democrats have been "arguing for weeks" in Government for Britain to play a part in the United Nations sanctuary scheme designed to help those in greatest need.

Asked if he was concerned over the possibility of Britons being radicalised in Syria and bringing violence back to Europe, Mr Hague said: "Yes and this is why a conflict like this affects us. It affects our own national security.

"The longer it goes on the greater these dangers are. That's why promoting a political solution there is so important.

"But it is a serious danger. People need to know first of all they should not be travelling to Syria under any circumstances and secondly though we are vigilant about this and that the Home Secretary has the power to remove the passport of someone who we think is going to do that, to cancel the leave to remain in this country of people who might go and come between Britain and Syria, so we are on the lookout for these people."

Liberal Democrat former leader Sir Menzies Campbell, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: " If this represents a genuine change of heart on the part of the Government, it is to be welcomed.

"The United Kingdom, of all countries, should not be ignoring the legitimate requests of the United Nations on refugees.

"The children of Syria have paid a terrible price. Surely we can find room for those who have suffered most.

"We should not allow allow our moral compass to be set by (UK Independence Party leader) Nigel Farage."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Mr Hague's comments suggested the Government is "inching forward" but needs to do "much more and quickly".

She warned against ministers producing "a fudge".

Renewing calls for the UK to join UN resettlement programme, s he said: "Last week Theresa May and the Home Office strongly opposed resettlement of vulnerable refugees, calling it 'token' and the Prime Minister opposed the UN programme.

"William Hague adopted a very different tone today, and I hope the Home Secretary has been persuaded to change policy.

"However, ministers mustn't just produce a fudge - the best way to help is for Britain to do its bit as part of the UN programme.

"This is about sanctuary for those fleeing persecution, its not about immigration policy or border control - and it is important that the Home Office doesn't confuse the two."

Ms Cooper said Britain's support for aid in the region is vital, adding: " But the UN have made clear that torture victims, abandoned children and other vulnerable refugees will struggle to survive or cope in the camps and need to be given sanctuary elsewhere.

"I urge the Government to back our motion and vote in Parliament on Wednesday to properly help these vulnerable refugees."


From Belfast Telegraph