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UK: Cameron U-turn on taking in more Syrian children

5th May 2016
UK: Cameron U-turn on taking in more Syrian children

LONDON (AA) – Britain will take in unaccompanied Syrian children already in Europe, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Wednesday. This is a climb down by the PM as he had previously rejected this idea

On televised remarks to parliament, Cameron said the government would accept opposition proposals for the U.K. to resettle displaced children in addition to the 23,000 refugees it had already promised to take from North Africa and the Middle East.

However, the prime minister did not specify the number of new cases the U.K. would accept, leading to skepticism among campaigners.

The government had previously rejected the idea of taking in Syrian children from other EU states, saying it would encourage them to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Europe.

In September, Britain said it would take up to 20,000 Syrians from refugee camps in the Middle East over the next five years and last month pledged to accept 3,000 mostly vulnerable children from the region and North Africa by 2020.

Cameron said discussions with the Save the Children aid group would focus on children who arrived in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal on refugees was signed.

“What I don’t want us to do is to take steps that will encourage people to make this dangerous journey because otherwise our actions, however well-meaning they will be, could result in more people dying than more people getting a good life,” he told parliament.

The new proposal will mean children registered in other EU states before March 20 — primarily Greece and Italy but also those in the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, France — will be able to settle in Britain.

Cameron said arrangements would have to be made with local authorities before a figure could be decided.

The question of resettling unaccompanied Syrian children has been an emotive political issue in the U.K., with a number of lawmakers from Cameron’s Conservative Party supporting opposition proposals to force the government to accept more children.

Lord Dubs, who came to Britain as a refugee through the Kindertransport, had been leading the campaign for the UK to accept 3,000 children from European camps.

His first attempt was voted down by Conservative MPs but the peer resubmitted the amendment without a specific figure attached, which Cameron said he was now willing to accept.

Erich Reich, chairman of the Association of Jewish Refugees, said the plight of Syrian children had echoes of the Kindertransport, an organized effort to rescue Jewish children from the Nazis.

“I feel it is incumbent on us to once again demonstrate our compassion and human-kindness to provide sanctuary to those in need,” he wrote in a letter to the prime minister released by the association Wednesday.

The SNP’s leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, who pressed Mr Cameron on the issue during the weekly PMQs, said he welcomed what he said appeared to be the “beginning of a U-turn”.

Lisa Doyle, from the Refugee Council, told The Guardian newspaper that “we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking the government has suddenly discovered its conscience while it’s simultaneously vilifying asylum seekers who are already in the UK and doing its best to trap all other refugees in poor countries.”

Eurostat figures released Tuesday showed that 88,300 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the EU in 2015, nearly triple the previous year’s figure.

Additional reporting by The Muslim News

[Photo:Refugees from Turkey arrive in Eftalou beach in Mytilini, Lesbos island, Greece. Photographer: Ozge Elif Kizil/AA]

May 5, 2016

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