Over recent days I’ve been contacted by hundreds of constituents regarding the refugee crisis.
It has been reassuring, even heartening, to see so many local people share my anger and anguish at the dreadful loss of life that we have witnessed in recent months on European shores. It has been with some pride that I’ve read people’s demands for the Government to act quicker to provide sanctuary to those fleeing civil war, sectarian violence and authoritarian regimes.
But today’s announcement from the Prime Minister falls well short of the response local people have been seeking.
The crisis is one of the biggest humanitarian challenges that Europe has faced since the Second World War. The Government’s response so far has been perilously lacklustre. Our country has a fine and brave tradition of supporting genuine refugees that goes back centuries. Our country’s values and reputation have been undermined by the current Government’s slow response.
I believe that the Government should have done more to help Syrian refugees. It is shameful that so far the Government’s 'Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme,' begun in March 2014, has helped just 216 people to date. Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper MP, called for much greater action on this issue over the past 18 months, arguing that we should separate refugees from immigration policy and urgently take at least 10,000 additional Syrian refugees.
It is as a result of concerted pressure that David Cameron has finally indicated that more Syrian refugees will be accepted into the UK. But the Government’s very late statement is that just 4,000 refugees will be taken per year and represents far too little. It could also mean Syrian orphan children taken in now could be deported back to that failing country despite their lack of remaining family or networks as the help has been time-limited. Cameron claimed to represent ‘compassionate Conservatism’ when he became leader of the Tory Party. That claim has been jettisoned in his shoddy response to this crisis.
I believe the Government must shift its position again. We must take more refugees now, rather than waiting longer whilst people perish. Help should also be longer term and the UK should redouble efforts to tackle traffickers and people smugglers who prey on people's fear and desperation.
I believe that the Prime Minister should also be better engaging with EU leaders to agree a process for dealing with this crisis at Europe's borders and to work with local authority leaders across the UK to see what more can be done in our local communities to support genuine refugees.
Thanks once again to all the local people who’ve written to me to share views on this issue. I’ve been impressed at the overwhelmingly decent and considerate correspondence received despite the almost relentlessly negative national media coverage conflating refugees and migrants.