Over recent days I’ve received hundreds of emails from local residents about the refugee crisis. It’s extremely heartening to know that so many of you not only share my anguish at the human cost of the crisis but agree with me that more needs to be done to help those seeking sanctuary from civil war, sectarian violence and authoritarian regimes.
The crisis is one of the biggest humanitarian challenges that Europe has faced since the Second World War. It is therefore shameful that so far the Government’s ‘Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme,’ begun in March 2014, has only assisted 216 Syrian refugees.
As a result of concerted public pressure the Prime Minister reluctantly agreed to welcome more Syrian refugees to Britain. In my view his Government is right to prioritise the most vulnerable Syrians – victims of sexual violence, elderly and disabled people, and victims of torture living in camps across the Middle East – for resettlement and to argue that we need to redouble efforts to help tackle the traffickers and people smugglers who prey on people’s fear and desperation. However, given the scale and immediacy of the present crisis the pledge the Prime Minister gave the House of Commons on Monday, to receive only 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of the next five years, is woefully inadequate.
The Government should think again about taking more refugees – both directly from Syria and from Southern European countries who are bearing the brunt of this crisis. The Prime Minister should also engage with EU leaders to agree a process for dealing with this crisis at Europe’s borders and work with local authority leaders across the UK to see what more can be done in our local communities to support refugees and asylum seekers.
Please rest assured that I will continue to press the Government on this issue while also supporting local efforts by the council, community groups and individual residents to help those in need.