Britain will take “thousands more” refugees from camps on the borders of war-torn Syria, as well as providing an additional £100m in aid for those fleeing the conflict, British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.
Downing Street declined to put a precise figure on the number of Syrians who will be admitted to the country, saying that details of the scheme were being finalised and will be announced next week.
Speaking during visits to Portugal and Spain, Mr Cameron said that Britain had a “moral responsibility” to help refugees. But there was no indication that Britain would be willing to resettle any of the hundreds of thousands of desperate people who have made perilous Mediterranean crossings by boat to reach Europe over the past few months.
The £100m funding pledge for refugee camps on Syria’s borders brings the total contribution from the UK to more than £1bn, making it Britain’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis, said Mr Cameron.
During his visit to Lisbon, Mr Cameron said that Britain had already offered asylum to around 5,000 Syrians in recent years and had introduced a resettlement scheme for residents in refugee camps deemed to be particularly at risk.
“Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of people, today I can announce that we will do more, providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees,” he said.
“We will continue with our approach of taking them from the refugee camps. This provides them with a more direct and safe route to the United Kingdom, rather than risking the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many their lives.”
Mr Cameron said details of the scheme would be announced next week, after discussions with NGOs and other partners, and Britain would act with “our head and our heart”.
Speaking later in Madrid, the PM said that admitting refugees “can only ever be part of the answer” to the migration crisis and that a comprehensive approach was needed, including using aid to alleviate suffering in the countries which migrants come from.
“We are already the second-largest bilateral donor of aid to the Syrian conflict, and today I can announce that we will provide a further £100 million, taking our total contribution to over £1 billion,” said Mr Cameron.
“That is the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. No other European country has come close to this level of support.
“£60 million of this additional funding will go to help Syrians still in Syria. The rest will go to neighbouring countries, to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where Syrian refugees now account for one-quarter of the population.
“Britain’s aid is supporting these camps. If we were not doing that, the numbers attempting the dangerous journey to Europe would be far, far higher.”
Mr Cameron said the UK would also carry on supporting efforts to detect and disrupt people-smuggling gangs and continue search and rescue operations to save migrants in the Mediterranean which have already assisted more than 6,700 people.
“Britain will act with her head and her heart,” said the PM. “For those economic migrants seeking a better life, we will continue to work to break the link between getting on a boat and getting settlement in Europe, discouraging those who don’t have a genuine claim from embarking on these perilous and sometimes lethal journeys.
“For those genuine refugees fleeing civil war, we will act with compassion and continue to provide sanctuary.”
Asked about the total number of refugees who could be admitted, Mr Cameron said: “There is not a number of people we can take that will bring this crisis to an end. To bring this crisis to an end you need a comprehensive approach, you need a government in Libya, you need a solution in Syria. And you need to go on with the frankly vital work of our aid budget funding the refugee camps, where the vast majority of Syrian refugees remain.
“It is quite clear that when you are dealing with a crisis of that scale that resettling refugees cannot be the answer to the problem.
“But Britain is a moral country with a moral conscience and we respond rightly to humanitarian crises and that is why we will be taking thousands of refugees. But let’s not pretend that that alone will deal with the problem.”
Mr Cameron said: ``As a father and as a human being you cannot help but be moved by these terrible pictures, seeing the picture of that poor child on the beach in Turkey.
“Those images will remain with all of us for a very very long time.
“But the question you have to ask not just as a father but as a Prime Minister is what are the actions we can take that will really make a difference?
“That is why, in taking additional refugees, because of course every one we take we can offer a new chance and a new life to, I think it is important we take them from Syrian refugee camps.
“I want to send the message out that the best way to get a new life is not to make this perilous journey.”