British PM U-turn on Syrian asylum seekers
LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron, days after saying a promise to “do more” for Syrian refugees did not include accepting additional migrants, said the United Kingdom would resettle up to 20,000 Syrians in the next five years.
Cameron said on September 2nd that “taking more and more refugees” was not the answer to the Syria migrant crisis. He softened his stance in Portugal two days later saying his country would “do more — providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees.”
Cameron completed his turn around a few days after that.
“We are proposing that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the rest of this parliament,” Cameron told the chamber on September 7th referring to the parliamentary term which ends in 2020. “In doing so, we will continue to show the world that this country is a country of extra compassion, always standing up for our values and helping those in need.
“The whole country has been deeply moved by the heartbreaking scenes over the last few days. We must use our head and heart by pursuing a comprehensive approach to tackle the causes,” Cameron said.
The Syrians are to be taken from refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. “This provides refugees with a more direct and safe route to the UK rather than risking the hazardous journey to Europe, which has tragically cost so many lives,” the prime minister said.
Cameron’s statements of September 2nd were strongly criticised and attracted accusations of “heartlessness”.
More than 340,000 people signed a petition calling for Britain to take its “fair share” of refugees fleeing war and persecution. That sparked a “#refugeeswelcome” campaign on social media.
Analysts agreed that Cameron’s change of mind had been sparked by the image of Aylan Kurdi. The 3-year-old boy’s body was found on a Turkish beach after the boat he and his family were in capsized en route from Turkey to Greece. Aylan, his brother and mother died in the incident. The image of Aylan’s body face down in the sand drew international attention to the refugees’ plight.
“As a father, I felt deeply moved by the sight of that young boy on a beach in Turkey,” Cameron said ahead of his policy shift.
“The prime minister isn’t changing his argument. He still thinks opening up Europe’s borders and agreeing quotas will not solve the refugee crisis… But, as the crisis gets worse and the public and political pressure grows, the prime minister does now accept that Britain has a moral duty to do more,” explained BBC Deputy Political Editor James Landale.
The United Kingdom has already accepted approximately 5,000 Syrians as part of a resettlement programme.
“Britain has long prided itself in being a humanitarian country on the world stage and offering refuge to those who need it most. We need to rekindle these values once more and ensure the UK takes its fair share of refugees. We are not calling for open borders, but open hearts,” said Shuja Shafi, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Cameron was criticised for only changing his stance after the international furore surrounding Aylan’s picture. “It shouldn’t have taken a photograph to get politicians to start to do the right thing,” said Amnesty International UK expert Steve Symonds.