I have been contacted by a huge number of constituents about the terrible refugee crisis as increasing numbers of people flee the violent civil war in Syria. Most of those who have fled have gone to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq but an increasing number are making their way to Europe.
When people are in such desperate distress, our natural human instinct is to help. And so we should. We have all been shocked by the dreadful loss of life in recent months as people have attempted to cross the sea and by the shocking images of children drowning and people suffocating to death in smugglers’ lorries.
This is now the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, and is therefore a test of our British values of compassion and decency. This is ultimately a moral question.
While the UK has rightly been very generous in giving humanitarian aid to people in the region - other countries should be doing their bit as well - it has also long been clear that the Government should have been doing a lot more to help refugees from Syria. Labour has been calling for this, especially in view of the shamefully small number – just 216 - of Syrian refugees who have been given shelter in the UK so far under the Government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. And it took that haunting photograph of Aylan Kurdi lying dead on the beach to persuade the Prime Minister to change his view that we should not take in any more refugees. He has now announced that an additional 20,000 places will made available in the UK for Syrian refugees taken from camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and resettled in the UK over the next five years.
I welcome that the Government has changed its position, but I do not believe that these plans match up to the scale or immediacy of the crisis. These refugees need help now and five years will be too long for many vulnerable refugees. The question is therefore how many refugees we will take this year and whether the Government will reconsider its opposition to taking refugees from Southern European countries who are bearing the brunt of this crisis.
The priority now is for the Government to get on with providing shelter to those from Syria and to do so quickly given the urgent need. This will need co-operation with local authorities and voluntary groups who have offered assistance. We also need to provide help to Greece which is currently struggling to cope with the numbers arriving. And European countries need to work together to agree a plan with every country playing its part as we develop a proper integration plan to ensure that refugees and local communities have the support they need when additional refugees arrive.
The Government should also consider upgrading Britain’s role in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, as well as redoubling efforts to tackle the traffickers and people smugglers who prey on people’s fear and desperation.
Finally, we need a major international diplomatic effort to try and bring the civil war in Syria to an end.
You might be interested to see the speech I made in the House of Commons on 9th September about the crisis. The link is below:
I know that there are many people in Leeds who are ready and willing to play their part to help.
MP for Leeds Central