David Cameron promised to welcome 20,000 Syrians — by the end of December 2015, just 1,085 had arrived
Four times a year since the early 1900s, the Home Office has published immigration statistics, in what has become a quarterly media ritual of claim and counter-claim. More recently, the Office for National Statistics muscled in, publishing quarterly estimates of immigration and emigration flows into and from the UK.
Today is one of those days when we are bombarded with migration statistics. What is remarkable is just how differently they have been reported, even in the liberal press. The Guardian argued that that net migration and the numbers of immigrants was falling, while the BBC maintained that net migration was still at a record level.
Both views are right. There has been a drop in the number of arrivals – 642,000 long-term immigrants came to the UK in the year to March 2015, compared with 617,000 in the year to September 2015. Net migration also fell, from 336,000 in the year to March 2015, to 323,000 in year to September 2015. But as the BBC stated, net migration is still higher than it was in 2014 or previously.
In relation to overall immigration, the estimates on who is arriving, both from inside and outside the EU, are fairly constant. There has been an increase in immigration from Bulgaria and Romania – with 55,000 arrivals in the year to September 2015, compared with 40,000 in the year to September 2014.
Another significant change has been a 9 per cent drop in emigration from the UK, one of the reasons why net migration has remained high.
As might be expected, both sides in the EU referendum debate have used the migration statistics to support their cause, although noise on this issue was somewhat muted on a busy media day. But hidden within today’s releases is some rather more revealing data.
Despite the escalating war in Syria and desperate conditions in the camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, we have admitted relatively few Syrians. On 7 September 2015, David Cameron promised to take in 20,000 Syrians in need of protection. By the end of December 2015, just 1,085 people had arrived – essentially a couple of planeloads.
This is an improvement on the previous nine months, when just 250 Syrians were evacuated under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) over this period. But it is still too little and too late. There are now 4.7 million Syrian refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries, and a further 6.6 million internally displaced people. In neighbouring Iraq, another 4 million people are internally displaced.
Winter in the Middle East is harsh and there have been a number of child deaths in the refugee camps. As spring approaches, many more desperate refugees will attempt to cross the Mediterranean. Their chances of becoming stranded in Greece are ever more likely, as more EU countries close their borders.
As the EU referendum approaches, Cameron will not want to be seen as giving in to EU pressure to take more refugees. But it is essential that those concerned about human rights keep up the pressure on the Government to accept more refugees from the Syrian conflict.
Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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