Wednesday 28 September 2016

Migration crisis: Pressure mounts on UK and Ireland to do more for Syrian refugees

David Kearns and Li-mei Hoang

Published 03/09/2015 | 10:25

Migrants' children gesture near the Keleti railway station in Budapest - over 2,000 migrants, many of them refugees from conflicts in the Middle East are camped in front of the station Credit: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Migrants' children gesture near the Keleti railway station in Budapest - over 2,000 migrants, many of them refugees from conflicts in the Middle East are camped in front of the station Credit: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Ireland and the UK is under pressure take in more refugees after the image of a dead Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach raised the emotional temperature of the debate.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron was widely criticised for saying on Wednesday that he did not think the answer was to take more and more refugees but to bring peace and stability to the Middle East, hours before the harrowing image emerged.

His comments echo those of Irish Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin who said this morning taking in people was not a long-term solution.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: "This is not simply a European issue... it's a world issue. Some of the difficulties dislodging people from their homelands in Syria and Iraq were not caused by Europeans.

“We need to have a world response with a real sense of solidarity and humanity and Ireland will certainly measure up to what was asked of us" 

Mr Howlin, who indicated Ireland would likely take in more than its allocated quota of 600 people, made his comments as the UK as come under intense pressure to soften its stance on taking in more refugees crossing into Europe from Syria.

"Mr Cameron, summer is over ... Now deal with the biggest crisis facing Europe since WW2," read a headline on the front page of the Sun, Britain's highest-selling newspaper, above the image of the lifeless boy being carried away.

Read More: A drowned toddler – the harrowing symbol of EU’s migrant crisis

A Turkish border guard carries the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi (3) after a number of migrants died and others were reported missing when boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized near Bodrum in Turkey.
A Turkish border guard carries the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi (3) after a number of migrants died and others were reported missing when boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized near Bodrum in Turkey.
Police officers investigate the scene before carrying the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi (3), lifting it from the sea shore, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. Photo: AP
The body of little Aylan (3), who died along with his mother and five-year-old brother as they tried desperately to escape Syria for a new life in Europe, is washed up on the idyllic Turkish sands at Bodrum. Photo: Reuters

The change of tone from a newspaper criticised by the United Nations rights chief in April after one of its columnists compared migrants to "cockroaches", was a mark of the emotional impact of the images of human suffering across Europe.

"We are nothing without compassion. Pic should make us all ashamed. We have failed in Syria. I am sorry little angel, RIP," wrote Nadhim Zahawi, a member of parliament from Cameron's Conservative Party, on Twitter, above a picture of the Syrian boy.

Some other Conservative legislators also spoke out in favour of a more compassionate stance.

Tom Tugendhat tweeted that many of his constituents wanted Britain to do more and he agreed with them, while the BBC quoted Johnny Mercer as saying mothers trying to keep their children afloat on life jackets should not think of the UK as a place that did not welcome them.

Read More: Desperate migrants storm train at Budapest's main station after police withdraw

Prime Minister David Cameron Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

Since the start of the Syrian war, Britain has taken in 216 people under a UN-backed relocation scheme for vulnerable Syrians, and about 5,000 Syrian refugees who were able to reach Britain by their own means.

The government says that while Britain has taken in fewer refugees than other European countries, it is the most generous donor of aid money to humanitarian organisations helping Syrians in their own country and in refugee camps in the Middle East.

But a growing chorus of critics has dismissed that response as inadequate in the face of the unfolding tragedy.

Yvette Cooper, one of four candidates to lead the opposition Labour Party, said in a speech Britain should take in an additional 10,000 refugees.

Read More: Ireland must do more to help with worst refugee crisis since WWII, says UN

Brendan Howlin
Brendan Howlin

David Miliband, a former Labour foreign secretary who now runs the International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental organisation, said he refused to believe that Britain had reached the limit of its capacity to take in refugees.

In a sign of growing grassroots disquiet with the official stance, a plan to stage a march next week through central London to Cameron's Downing Street office to show solidarity with refugees was gaining traction on Facebook.

A petition on parliament's website to accept more refugees and increase support for them had garnered close to 100,000 signatures.

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