Top British celebrities have today criticised the UK Government for failing to resettle more refugees from Syria.
The stars, including British Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Michael Palin, Dame Vivienne Westwood and musician Sting, have written an open letter to David Cameron in support of a joint Refugee Council, Amnesty International and Oxfam call for Britain to do more to help Syria’s refugees find safety in the UK.
On 29 January 2014, the Government announced it was setting up a special resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees following considerable public pressure. However, one year on, the latest figures show that just 90 people have arrived.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding Syria and the surrounding region continues to worsen, with the number of refugees swelling to over 3.7 million; many of whom are struggling to survive in the region’s severe winter conditions.
As Syria’s refugees struggle to survive snow and freezing temperatures in makeshift shelters, the stars’ letter says they are ‘ashamed’ of the size of Britain’s resettlement scheme, issuing a stern reminder to David Cameron that helping those in need chimes with Britain’s most cherished values.
The celebrities say in their letter:
In a climate where children are sent to work in order to help their parents survive, where young girls are sold off as child brides and where torture victims are unable to rebuild their lives, every resettlement place countries like Britain provide is a lifeline.
Resettling ‘several hundred people’ just isn’t good enough for a global leader. This issue isn’t about migration statistics or party politics, it’s about people. It’s about the values that we in Britain hold dear; compassion and humanity.
Your choice is simple, yet historic. You are in a position to offer some of the most vulnerable people in the world safety in Britain. You can offer hope. You can offer a future.
The UN’s Refugee Agency UNHCR is calling on governments from around the world to offer 100,000 resettlement places for Syria’s refugees in 2015/2016.
So far, the British Government has said it anticipates resettling just ‘several hundred people’ over a three year period and has resisted calls to resettle more people. Other countries, including Germany and the USA, have promised to resettle thousands. In early January, Canada announced it would open its doors to 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “The Syrian crisis presents us with one of the greatest refugee crises of our time and, arguably, one of the greatest moral questions of our time.
“The UK’s commitment to the relief effort has been laudable but it’s not enough. The question is, does David Cameron want to go down in history as the Prime Minister who rationed his compassion to a few hundred people when there was the opportunity to offer safety to so many more?”
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen added: “The UK often prides itself on its history of offering sanctuary to refugees but this government can’t hold its head high when it comes to the most vulnerable refugees from the conflict in Syria. Millions are living in extremely precarious conditions in neighbouring countries. Given the numbers, it is shocking that the UK has only taken in 90 refugees since it agreed to a resettlement programme a year ago.
“The international community must urgently step up its efforts to take the pressure off Syria’s neighbours and resettle the most vulnerable of these refugees for whom protection here could literally be a matter of life or death.”
Oxfam Chief Executive Mark Goldring said: “This is about Britain standing side by side with a region in crisis and offering to improve the lives of some the most desperate Syrian refugees. Our aid contribution has been highly generous, but we can no longer continue to treat this problem solely at arms length. For some refugees, life in camps or makeshift shelters is not just hard, it is impossible. A year ago we promised to reach out to these most vulnerable people, but so far Britain has not done enough to live up to that promise.”
The celebrities’ letter follows a call made by over 30 leading aid and refugee agencies for the British Government to resettle up to 10,000 refugees from Syria by the end of 2015.