Dear Mr Cameron
Yesterday, you denied that taking more refugees is the answer to the refugee crisis. I write this letter to express my disagreement, and to call on you to ensure that the United Kingdom takes a far greater number of refugees, fleeing what can only be described as a dreadful existence.
The UK government’s action to accommodate refugees has so far been wholly inadequate, and frankly shameful. Indeed, whereas Germany granted asylum to over 40,000 refugees last year, the United Kingdom took only around 10,000. Per capita, the United Kingdom has one of the poorest records of all European nations on this issue. According to data released last week, only 216 Syrians have been officially resettled by the UK government since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. Perhaps a little perspective is illustrative; a London Underground train seats around 300. The notion that the fifth largest economy in the world cannot support a greater number of refugees than this is absurd.
It must of course be acknowledged that this constitutes a politically challenging situation for your government. However, it must also be acknowledged that this is in large part due to the poisonous and ill- informed debate on refugees that has been fuelled by the comments of you and your ministers. That includes the refusal of many to refer to the refugees as such, instead using the more politically convenient term ‘migrants’, implying a voluntary flight on their part, when in reality they have been driven from their homes by countless horrendous atrocities. It also includes using language that one normally uses to describe pests. Indeed, it is not surprising that there is fear amongst the population when you describe a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean”.
Despite this, there is growing public concern at our inaction, and growing support for the UK to take more refugees. There will of course be costs involved, I am not denying that. The real issue is that your government seems to think that these are costs not worth paying, that they somehow outweigh the lives of the most vulnerable.
You have expressed your desire to focus on peace in the Middle East. This is of course an absolutely crucial objective. Similarly, your ministers continue to point to the significant funding that the UK government has given to humanitarian aid in Syria and beyond. This work is to be congratulated. However, this action alone is not enough. One cannot simply throw money at this issue and hope that is goes away. We must also play our part in accommodating a greater number of refugees in their hour of need. Let us also acknowledge that many are fleeing unrest in the Middle East that the United Kingdom bears some responsibility for.
That is not to mention our legal commitments, based on the legal rights of refugees that were drafted with great input from the United Kingdom. These are the same legal rights that your government expects countries in the region to uphold. How easy it is to encourage Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to open their borders from afar. For all of our challenges, we are in a remarkably better position to accommodate refugees than these nations. We must do so.
History teaches us that the United Kingdom has been a nation that has often welcomed refugees. More importantly, history teaches us the grave consequences of failing to do so. When European nations did so in the 1930s, policy makers and the media could hide behind ignorance of the true picture and scale of devastation. When history judges this period, your government shall have no such defence.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons