After being pressured by the British public to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis, the government seemingly reluctantly, reversed its closed doors policy and pledged to offer enhanced support to refugees this week.
That the government’s offerings still remain meagre in comparison to other EU countries lending their support, especially given that we are one of the wealthiest nations within the Union, still continues to niggle at the Public Conscience.
So it’s no surprise that the Home Office’s latest statement on the issue is a rather long and defensive diatribe about its efforts past and present, helping people in need. Still, we may be being over sensitive about the matter, so we’ll let you decide whether or not you think we’ve caught the tone of this piece, which we add below:
The UK has a proud history of providing refuge to those in genuine need of protection. We will continue to play our full part at the forefront of the international response to the crisis.
The Government is committed to remaining at the forefront of the international response to the situation in the Mediterranean. To support this commitment, the Prime Minister has announced that the Government will expand the existing Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme to resettle around 20,000 Syrians in need of protection during this Parliament.
The Prime Minister’s announcement to expand the VPR scheme is part of our comprehensive approach designed as far as possible to help refugees in the region but recognising that for some vulnerable people the only solution is to bring them to countries like the UK.
The UK already has some of the largest and longest running resettlement schemes in the EU, providing sanctuary to around 1,000 refugees a year. We see targeted resettlement as part of a sustainable plan to tackle the root causes of these crises and reduce the need to make dangerous journeys, often in the hands of ruthless criminals. Our response must adapt to the changing situation.
According to the UNHCR, by the end of 2014, Syria was the world’s top source country of refugees and one out of every four refugees is Syrian. So it is right that our resettlement efforts are concentrated here.
But the UK already runs other resettlement programmes which focus on a wider set of nationalities. The Gateway Protection Programme resettles 750 refugees each year from a small number of targeted locations. In recent years, the majority of these refugees have been Congolese, Ethiopians, Iraqis and Somalis from, predominantly, Kenya, Burundi and Syria.
The Mandate resettlement scheme resettles individuals recognised as refugees by the UNHCR and resettles individual refugees from anywhere in the world who have been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, and judged by them to be in need of resettlement; and who have a close family member in the UK who is willing to accommodate them.
We already have significant experience of resettling vulnerable people and our existing domestic resettlement mechanisms provide a basis for a relatively quick increase in numbers. We are already working with existing partners to ensure that we can begin to increase numbers as quickly as possible. Over the coming weeks and months, we will work with local authorities, the UNHCR and others to put in place the full structures to ensure we can scale up the current arrangements to ensure we can meet the aim of bringing up to 20,000 Syrians over the lifetime of this Parliament and deliver on the expansion that has been announced.
Alongside the expansion of the VPR scheme, we have already committed £900 million in humanitarian aid to the humanitarian crisis. The Prime Minister announced a further £100 million in the past few days, bringing our commitment to £1billion – more than any other country in the world except the United States. The UK is the only EU country to fulfil its pledge to provide 0.7% of GDP to international aid and we should be proud of this. By the end of March 2015, UK support had delivered over 18 million food rations, each of which feeds one person for one month, provided access to clean water for 1.6 million people (peak month), and over 2.4 million medical consultations in Syria and the region.
The Government takes seriously its obligation to do what must be done to provide support to Syrians in need of protection as a result of events in the Middle East, and as such our priorities are on continuing to provide humanitarian aid to those most in need in the region and actively seeking an end to the crisis. We believe this approach is the best way to ensure that the UK’s help has the greatest impact for the majority of refugees who remain in the region and their host countries.
Those who have already reached Europe are no longer in immediate danger and the European countries in which they arrive have a duty to provide adequate protection and support to refugees within their territory. The UK stands ready to provide practical support to those frontline Member States who are experiencing particularly serious pressures. However, those that remain in the immediate region around Syria are more likely to be particularly vulnerable. It is right that we should focus our efforts on helping the most vulnerable which is why we are expanding the VPR scheme.