UK to take in ‘thousands’ more refugees; commits £100 mn aid

05 Sep 2015


Britain promised on Friday to take in thousands more Syrian refugees and give £100 million in extra aid, as their plight raised pressure on European leaders.

''Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the people, today I can announce that we will do more, providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees,'' Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters on a visit to Lisbon.

Speaking later in Madrid, he said Britain will provide an extra £100 million in humanitarian aid for the Syrian crisis, bringing its total contribution to more than £1 billion.

But he declined to offer sanctuary for some of the hundreds of thousands of migrants, including many displaced Syrians, who have already reached Europe, some of them in perilous sea crossings. Instead, he said Britain would select Syrians from UN refugee camps near the Syrian border (See: EU faces `defining moment' with refugee crisis: UNHCR).

''I want to send the message out that the best way to get a new life is not to make this perilous journey,'' he said at a news conference in Madrid alongside his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy.

Britain, which lies outside the passport-free border Schengen zone shared by most of its European Union neighbours, faces pressure to accept a greater share of Syrian refugees.

Calls for action peaked this week after the publication of harrowing images of a three-year-old Syrian toddler who drowned as his family tried to reach Europe.

''We want to work with NGOs to take them directly from refugee camps, rather than do anything that will encourage these desperately unsafe journeys that are leading to these appalling tragedies,'' Cameron said, referring to those images.

He did not specify how many more refugees Britain would accept, saying only that more details would be announced next week and that the resettlement scheme would be kept ''under review''.

Cameron said the level of aid for Syrians was Britain's biggest-ever response to a humanitarian crisis and greater than that of any other European country.

A petition to parliament urging Britain to accept more refugees has garnered more than 360,000 signatures. Campaign group Avaaz said that 2,000 Britons had volunteered to host refugee families.

Britain has accepted 216 Syrian refugees under a special government scheme over the past year and around 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum since the conflict there broke out in 2011 -- far fewer than countries like France, Germany and Sweden.

More than four million Syrians have fled the war, many of them taking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, according to the United Nations.

Britain has opted out of a quota system for relocating asylum seekers within the European Union despite growing calls in the EU for fairer distribution.

All the contenders for the leadership of the main opposition Labour Party and even some MPs within Cameron's party have urged Cameron to do more.

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