David Cameron bowed to pressure at the end of last week to announce Britain will accept 'thousands more' refugees' after The Independent called for UK to take its fair share
David Cameron bowed to pressure at the end of last week to announce Britain will accept 'thousands more' refugees' after The Independent called for UK to take its fair share INM

Britain joins countries increasing their refugee intake

DAVID Cameron has announced that up to 20,000 Syrian refugees will be welcomed into Britain by 2020, coming after The Independent's campaign calling for the UK to do its fair share was backed by more than 360,000 people.

Signalling a major U-turn in the Government's policy after last week insisting Britain was doing enough, Mr Cameron said Britain must live up to its "moral responsibility" to tackle the refugee crisis, which he described as the "biggest challenge" facing Europe.

However the 20,000 figure might not be reached until the end of the decade, the Prime Minister said, and he failed to say how many refugees will be welcomed by the end of this year.

Mr Cameron also announced that the RAF killed a British Isis terrorist located in Syria last month, telling MPs that the decision to act was "entirely lawful". "We took this action because there was no alternative," he said. "We were exercising Britain's inherent right in self defence."

The decision to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees marks a significant U-turn in the Government's policy in less than a week.

It had previously focused efforts at tackling the humanitarian crisis at source, pledging £1bn of aid to Syrian refugee camps in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

"No European country has come close to this level of support," Mr Cameron told MPs this afternoon. He said Britain must use "our head and our heart" to pursue a "comprehensive response" to the humanitarian crisis.

Britain has accepted just 216 Syrians into Britain over the past year as part of a relocation scheme, while accepting around 5,000 Syrians since 2011 through the normal asylum process, but that figure only involves Syrians who have reached the UK border.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said: "Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the Syrian people it is right that we should do much more.

"So Mr Speaker, we are proposing that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the rest of this Parliament.

"In doing so we will continue to show the world that this is a country of extraordinary compassion always standing up for our values and helping those in need. So Mr Speaker, Britain will play its part alongside our other European partners."

However the number of Syrian refugees the Prime Minister has agreed to take in pales in comparison to our European neighbours, with Germany welcoming in as many as 15,000 in just one weekend.

Earlier today Mr Cameron was told by the French President Francois Hollande not to "shirk your duties" from standing in solidarity with the rest of Europe to accept Syrian refugees.

Mr Hollande said: "On the issue of refugees, it's true that Britain is not in the Schengen zone and has a certain number of capabilities that are different to Europe. But that doesn't exempt it - and David Cameron has said this himself - from making an effort in terms of solidarity."

"In Calais, these are people who are not looking for asylum in France but to go the UK. Everyone must understand that you can't demand solidarity when there's a problem and shirk your duties when there are solutions."

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary and Labour leadership candidate, called on Mr Cameron to rethink the number of places he is offering and said Britain must sign up to the EU's plan to relocate refugees who have already arrived at Europe's borders in Hungary, Greece and Italy.

"I am urging the Prime Minister to look again at this - and to talk to local authorities about how many more people they can swiftly help," she said. "I am holding a summit this week with councils, faith groups and charities to see how much more Britain can swiftly do.

"And Britain also needs to help take refugees from Europe as well as directly from Syria - especially from Greece which is struggling to respond to the number of people who have arrived on their shores, many of whom are in makeshift and overcrowded camps.

"Britain must urgently agree to be part of a Europe wide plan - we shouldn't have quotas drawn up by the Commission, but we should volunteer to help and work closely with other countries too."

She was joined by charities, who agreed that the UK had the moral responsibility and the capability to take in more refugees.

Justin Forsyth, chief executive at Save the Children, said: "The Prime Minister's announcement to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees direct from the region into Britain is important and welcome - it will make a real difference to some very vulnerable families and children.

"We also need to help those refugees already in Europe, specifically by taking in 3,000 of the children who have travelled here completely alone. The Prime Minister could continue a proud British tradition, started by the kindertransport, of giving lone children a second chance in Britain."

And Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee expert, commented: "It shouldn't have taken a photograph to get politicians to start to do the right thing, but this news offers a vital lifeline to thousands of Syrians. If acted upon urgently, it will be a truly positive step forward.

"However, it does not address the huge challenge facing Europe right now - countries like Greece and Hungary cannot cope alone. Nor does it offer a solution to the many Eritreans, Afghans and others, forced to flee bullets, bombs, torture and overcrowded refugee camps elsewhere.

"We all need to acknowledge there is no single measure that can immediately solve the current crisis, and no one country can achieve its resolution all by itself.

"So far the UK has been unwilling to share responsibility for refugees arriving in Europe. This position undermines efforts to secure a comprehensive response - saving lives, tackling people smuggling and resolving conflicts and other crises at the heart of this exodus."

The announcement comes after Mr Cameron finally bowed to pressure on Friday to step up Britain's role in alleviating the growing refugee crisis engulfing Europe, but would give no further details than pledging to accept "thousands more" into Britain.

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