Leading aid and refugee agencies, including Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee and Amnesty International, have condemned the British Government’s ‘clearly inadequate’ response to the on-going refugee crisis which gripped Europe for most of 2015.
The criticism comes as 27 charities have written to David Cameron in an open letter, coordinated by the British Refugee Council, which calls for the Prime Minister to approach the New Year with ‘new resolve’ to tackle the crisis.
The letter says:
The UK, along with other European countries, must take responsibility for responding to the refugee crisis on Europe’s doorstep.
Over 64 years ago, soon after the horrors of the Second World War, European governments adopted the Refugee Convention, an instrument of international law which British lawyers helped to draft. As a nation, we made a promise: that never again would refugees be left out in the cold to fend for themselves; that this country would protect them; that here, they would find safe haven.
We urge you to keep that promise.
The letter urges the UK to take a fair and proportionate share of refugees, as well as establishing safe and legal routes for refugees seeking protection to travel to the UK. The charities also call for the UK to ensure asylum seekers are able to access fair and thorough procedures in order to determine their eligibility for protection.
Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “There are no easy answers to a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. However, the solution must not be to spend another year impassively watching on while desperate people drown or are forced to endure a march of misery across the continent as they try to find a safe haven or to be reunited with their loved ones.
“This year the Prime Minister must open his heart and show true statesmanship by welcoming far more refugees to the UK, enabling them to travel here safely and legally to live lives free from violence, tyranny and oppression.”
Penny Lawrence, Oxfam’s Deputy Chief Executive said: “Last year over a million desperate people made the hazardous journey into Europe seeking sanctuary. The numbers are huge but each one is a person: a brother, a mother, a daughter, a loved one. The Government’s response to this crisis in Europe has been lacklustre at best, mean spirited at worse. In the face of such levels of human need the Government needs to do more to provide a safe haven.”
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “While David Cameron has grimly clung on to the idea that the UK government’s approach to the refugee crisis is the right one, thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean and Aegean.
“The Prime Minister must now urgently change tack and support the creation of safe and legal routes which so many desperate refugees need to get to Europe, including to the UK. Without these, thousands more will perish. Let’s not see a repeat in 2016 of the terrible scenes of death that were so common last year on Europe’s beaches and in its seas.”
Sanj Srikanthan, Director of Policy and Practice at the International Rescue Committee said: “It is clear that the British government’s commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees over 5 years is too slow, too low and too narrow. It seems that the government is burying its head in the sand about the sheer scale of the problem. Europe is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. The government needs to wake up to the scale of the challenge we’re facing, and recognise that resettling 4,000 refugees per year – only 6 people per parliamentary constituency – is woefully inadequate. We urge the government to resettle a more proportionate number of refugees, reflecting the UK population and our proud history of helping refugees in need.”