Leading aid agencies, including Oxfam, Save the Children and Amnesty International, have criticised the British Government for keeping the UK’s border under ‘lock and key’.
The criticism comes as 25 charities, led by the Refugee Council, have written to the Prime Minister calling for the UK to participate in the UN’s resettlement programme for refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict.
The letter says:
“The UK deserves credit for its leadership in providing assistance to refugees in the region, including £600 million in aid, helping millions of families survive. However, given the scale and the gravity of the humanitarian crisis unfolding across the region, we would urge the UK to join the 18 other states participating in UNHCR’s global resettlement programme. Those with family already in the UK should be allowed to reunite with their loved ones.
“People in neighbouring states have shown incredible compassion and opened their homes to hundreds of thousands of people but we all have a shared responsibility. It would be catastrophic if the neighbouring countries closed their borders to the thousands of people who flee the conflict every day. Yet how can we call on Syria’s neighbours to keep their borders open to refugees if we keep our own under lock and key?”
Resettlement would help the most vulnerable refugees find a place of safety. UNHCR identifies refugees in need of resettlement to be transferred to western countries such as the UK which is better able to help them.
UNHCR has appealed to western governments to accept 30,000 of the most vulnerable refugees trapped in the region. So far 18 countries including Germany, France and the USA have signed up but the UNHCR is still over 10,000 places away from meeting its target.
Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “Given the scale and gravity of the crisis in Syria, we must do everything within our means to help people rebuild their lives in safety.
“For every vulnerable individual who is rescued from the region, resettlement would be life changing. Children would be able to go to school, women would be able to live without the constant fear of sexual violence, torture survivors could get the specialist help they need.
“Today we are appealing for the Government to show the same leadership on resettlement as they’ve shown in the relief effort to the region. Our message is clear: the UK must help the UNHCR reach its target for resettlement places. We cannot close the door to people who so urgently need our protection. Now is the time to act: people’s lives could depend on it.”