Elham Asaad Buaras
The UK will take only 4,000 Syrian refugees this year. Prime Minister, David Cameron, confirmed to Parliament on September 7 that under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPR), in place since early 2014, the UK will accept up to 20,000 Syrians living in camps in Syria, Turkey and Jordan but only over the next 5 years.
The UK rejected German pressure to take part in a new system of binding quotas for the refugee crisis spread across the EU, in what the UN described as the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Cameron’s climb down refusal not to accept more than a tiny proportion of Syrian refugees into the UK came after politicians of all parties and more than 250,000 Britons signed a petition demanding he abandon his stance after the publication of shocking photos of Aylan Kurdi, a dead Syrian toddler who was washed up on a Turkish beach.
The Government also announced it is to work with the devolved administrations and councils to ensure the maximum capacity was available.
Criticism of Cameron’s reaction
Labour branded the 20,000 figure as “inadequate”, the while the Green Party said it “falls pitifully short of what’s needed” and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called it a “very slim response”.
Interim Labour Leader, Harriet Harman, said there was an urgent need for action now and questioned whether there was scope to accept more than 4,000 this year.
“Is being British is to be narrow, inward looking, fearful of the outside world, or is it about being strong and confident and proud to reach out to those seeking refuge on our shores? It must be the latter.” She also called on the Government to reconsider its refusal to accept any refugees currently in southern and central Europe.
The SNP’s Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson, said it was “appalling” that only 216 refugees had been given sanctuary so far under the VPR scheme while Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman said the UK’s efforts stood in stark contrast to that of Germany, which had effectively accepted 10,000 refugees in a single day and France, which is taking 24,000 refugees over the next two years.
Germany announced it will spend around $6.6 billion to cope with some 800,000 migrants and refugees expected to have crossed into the country by the end of 2015.
The Muslim Charities Forum (an umbrella group for UK-based Muslim charities) have also called on Cameron to, “Reconsider the number of refugees it will take in as well as shorten the time span to two years instead of five. We need immediate action now as this is a crisis situation. The UK needs to take a leadership role in this crisis due to its unique positioning in Europe and history in the region.”
Cameron defended his reaction to the migrant crisis insisting the UK was giving £1billion, from the foreign aid funds, in humanitarian aid to Syria and that by accepting refugees directly from camps it was discouraging people from taking the “potentially lethal” crossing across the Mediterranean.
Shaming of rich Gulf states
According to the UN’s refugee agency, almost 1.8 million of the four million Syrians who fled their country have gone to Turkey, more than 600,000 to Jordan, 132,375 in Egypt and 1 million to Lebanon – a country whose population is just 4 million.
However, oil rich Arab Gulf states have been branded “shameful” after it emerged they have refused to give asylum to a single Syrian refugee.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are yet to take any Syrians.
Amnesty International’s Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights, Sherif Elsayid-Ali, said: “The records of Gulf countries is absolutely appalling, in terms of actually showing compassion and sharing the responsibility of this crisis…It is a disgrace.”
The oil-rich nations – none of which signed the 1951 Refugee Convention – all rank within the world’s top 50 wealthiest countries, and combined spend £65 billion annually on the military. Kuwaiti official Fahad Al Shalami told France24 in an interview on September 2 that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should never accept Syrian refugees.
Kuwait and the other GCC countries are “too expensive to accept any refugees,” Al Shalami said. “Our countries are only fit for workers. It’s too costly to relocate them here. Kuwait is too expensive for them anyway, as opposed to Lebanon and Turkey which are cheap,” he explained. “These countries are better suited for the Syrian refugees.”
But there is also another, equally important reason the oil-rich nations should not welcome the Syrian refugees, Al Shalami said. “In the end, it is not right for us to accept a people that are different from us. We don’t want people who suffer from internal stress and trauma in our country.”
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have donated funds, food, shelter and clothing to Syrians in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
In total, the Gulf states are thought to have given over £589 million to the aid effort – but it is four times less than the United States has.
The UK has given £918 million to help deal with the impact of violence in and it will increase its aid for refugees to more than £1 billion.
The UK’s contribution is more than Saudi Arabia’s £387 million, UAE’s £359 million and Qatar’s £157,000 combined.
British Muslims donate
British Muslim charities have led the way in helping the refugees across Europe and in neighbouring Middle East countries.
In 2014 alone, Muslim Aid delivered aid to over 37,000 Syrians in Syria and in camps in Jordan and Lebanon. The charity also started the Beity Orphanage on the Turkish border now home to 100 Syrian orphans.
Muslim Hands has been working with the grassroots group Calais Action to provide essential relief to families staying in the camps of Calais in France.
They have set up a donation centre and with the help of 50 volunteers and filled a warehouse with items.
Muslim Hands has also amassed a team of translators to assist the refugees.
Back in the UK Muslim Hands says it is working with councils, housing associations and mosques to prepare a welcome strategy for refugees arriving in the UK.
Working with the Muslim Charities Forum to aid refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, Muslim Hands has set up a transit centre for refugees to get families to their destinations quickly and safely.
Islamic Relief has distributed emergency food packs to 2,400 people in Lesbos and like Muslim Hands has provided a team of translators and support services to refugees, advising on accessing essential services. Islamic Relief has also provided cash grants to the most vulnerable families, particularly families with children and people that are sick.