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UK 'should take in Syrian refugees'

A Tory minister has called on the Government to look urgently at taking in Syrian refugees.

Earl Howe said Britain had traditionally been a country that has "looked kindly on people in distress" and insisted "that should not change".

It comes after Ukip leader Nigel Farage joined the growing calls for the UK to start admitting Syrians fleeing the fighting, which has ravaged the Middle Eastern state for almost three years.

Earlier this month Amnesty International said the Government should "hang its head in shame" for not opening its borders to the some of the millions of people displaced by continuing violence.

Asked if Britain should be doing more to bring Syrian refugees into the country and offer them support, Lord Howe told BBC 5 Live Breakfast: "I certainly think we should look at this and we have in the past traditionally, have we not, been a country that has looked kindly on people in distress and who are the victims of violence in their native countries and that should not change."

He added: "I think we have got to look at this urgently. There are people in desperate need, we can't accommodate them all. I think the European Union has a duty to look at what it can do, both on the ground for those refugees from Syria but also looking at whether we can accommodate some of them."

The United Nations has called on the international community to offer not only humanitarian aid for refugees, but also resettlement opportunities outside the country, and Labour has called on the Government to accept 400-500 Syrians, including torture victims, women and girls at high risk and people with family links to the UK.

But ministers insist that Britain can best help by providing funds to assist those affected by the long-running civil war both inside Syria and in neighbouring states such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

The £500 million of official aid to Syria is the UK's largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis, with £ 217 million being spent inside Syria and £236 million in neighbouring countries.

Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps insisted Britain was taking the right approach by focusing on aid.

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "Britain's contribution to the humanitarian crisis there is equal to all other 27 EU countries combined. We are putting in a massive amount of effort.

Asked if there was any change in policy, he replied: "No, this is absolutely the right thing to do because what people are trying to suggest is rather tokenistic, isn't it?

"The idea that you can take 500 people and solve the problem."

Mr Farage later appeared to suggest that Britain has a particular responsibility to focus on Christian victims in Syria.

"Christians are being increasingly persecuted across the Middle East and Syria as extreme Islamist elements seek to purge the region of Christianity," he said.

"Britain must take its global responsibility seriously. It would seem that EU membership has skewed our sense of compassion that has long been a hallmark of British values. This Government is about to let in thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians whilst we turn our back on people who in decades past we would have helped.

"If we do not help these people then who will? We must as a nation help Christians who are fleeing Syria to escape death and torture by allowing some to come to the UK."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who last week called for a change of attitude in Government to refugees, said: "I'm heartened by the increasing support across the political spectrum for some generosity towards those who have suffered so badly in Syria and particularly the children who have suffered the most traumatic experiences.

"To dismiss the idea of the UK taking some refugees as a token gesture is to miss the point.

"It would not be a token gesture for each and every individual from Syria who gets the chance of respite from their terrible ordeal."

Refugee Council advocacy officer Anna Musgrave said: "It's extremely encouraging to see that political consensus is growing that the UK can and should play a full role in a global refugee resettlement programme.

"This crisis isn't going away any time soon: thousands of people continue to flee the Syrian conflict every day in search of safety.

"The UK has a proud tradition of protecting refugees. Now is the time to live up to that tradition by working with the UN to offer safe haven to the most vulnerable people. The Government simply cannot close the door to people who so desperately need our protection."

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