There are 4 million Syrian refugees but the UK has helped fewer than 7,000

A duty to protect refugees is enshrined in our domestic law


On Friday and Saturday our news channels relayed images of chaos at the Greece-Macedonia border. These events follow more tragedies in the Mediterranean this week and scenes of young men trying to scale the security fences that surround the port and Eurotunnel at Calais.

Almost all sectors of the press referred to these people as migrants. Yes, they are migrants, in that they were attempting to migrate. But most of those assembled at the Greek border and perhaps the majority in Italy, Greece and at Calais belong to a specific sub-group – forced migrants or refugees.  

Almost all of those who gathered at the Greece-Macedonia border were Syrians. Most of them didn’t want to make this journey at all, and would rather have stayed at home, but they couldn’t.

It is now time that western governments admitted that we are facing a global refugee crisis. In June, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published its annual refugee survey. Its data showed that forced displacement was at its highest level ever recorded – more than at the end of the Second World War or the partition of India.

The number of forced migrants (asylum-seekers, refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs)) at the end of 2014 had risen to a 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million in 2004.

The war in Syria is one of the main reasons why global refugee numbers have increased. Today, about 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced and a further 4 million are refugees, mostly in Turkey (1.8 million), Lebanon (1.2 million), Jordan (650,000) and Iraq, with 250,000 Syrian refugees in addition to its own displaced citizens.

Although many more Syrians have tried to enter EU countries in recent months, their numbers in Europe are small compared with these four Middle Eastern countries. Since the conflict began Germany has admitted the largest number of Syrian asylum-seekers – 41,000 in 2014 alone – followed by Sweden and Denmark. The UK has taken in about 220 programme refugees evacuated from the region and a further 6,000 asylum-seekers who have made their own way here.

On top of the war in Syria and Iraq, a number of other wars have contributed to the growing refugee crisis. In Africa these include conflicts in the Central African Republic (420,000 refugees and 370,000 IDPs), Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (400,000 refugees and 2.9 million IDPs), Eritrea, Libya (450,000 IDPs), Mali, north east Nigeria (1.5 million IDPs), Somalia (1.1 million refugees and 1.1 million IDPs) Sudan (650,000 refugees and 3.1 million IDPs) and South Sudan (750,000 refugees and 1.5 million IDPs).

Elsewhere, many thousands of people have been displaced in Colombia (400,000 refugees and 6 million IDPs), Mexico, Ukraine (750,000 refugees and 1.5 million IDPs), Yemen (270,000 refugees and 400,000 IDPs), Afghanistan (2.7 million refugees and 850,000 IDPs), Burma (480,000 refugees and 660,000 IDPs) and Pakistan (1.8 million IDPs).

A duty to protect refugees is enshrined in domestic law in many of the world’s countries. Some 148 nations have signed the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. These treaties define refugees as those who have ‘a well-founded fear of persecution’ and set out the responsibilities of nations towards asylum-seekers and refugees.

The UNHCR ensures that signatory states uphold these international laws and also coordinates assistance to refugees in poor countries. Along with other aid agencies, UNHCR staff also try to provide internally displaced people with food, clean water and shelter. However, helping IDPs is usually made difficult by poor security and by their high mobility and wide dispersal within war-torn countries.

Often hungry and facing on-going danger, the life of an internally displaced person is usually far worse than that of a refugee. As a consequence some of them eventually flee further from conflict zones. They become refugees in countries such as Greece, Turkey and Lebanon, Lebanon is itself a fragile country where 232 people in every 1,000 are now refugees, the biggest proportion of any nation.

The scenes on the Greek border highlight the need for a better response to forced migration. We need to admit that the policies of western governments have had a role in worsening some refugee crises. (Our government’s support for Saudi Arabia, deeply involved in the Yemen conflict, is just one example). There needs to be more concerted diplomatic efforts made to end some of these wars.

Our governments need to fund conflict resolution and stabilisation measures that prevent situations worsening or help countries move towards peace. As a country that sees itself as a moral leader that upholds human rights, the UK has a responsibility towards refugees and displaced people. The UNHCR and other aid agencies need much more funding, and pledges of money need to be honoured.

Unpopular as it may be, the UK needs to accept more Syrian programme refugees, to take the pressure off Lebanon. And we need to describe those waiting on the Greek border as human beings and as refugees in need of protection, remembering that food and security are basic human needs that we all have the right to seek.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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23 Responses to “There are 4 million Syrian refugees but the UK has helped fewer than 7,000”

  1. Sid

    7,000 too many !!!!

  2. Roy

    There should be an investigation into the cultural costs to the traditional British way of life of recent immigration.

  3. Kathryn


  4. Kathryn

    How could you possibly quantify ‘cultural costs’. You’re assuming that ‘a culture’ is objective when of course as with all things it is objective. You are also assigning a value to ‘cultural change’ rather than viewing it as neutral. I.e. you are viewing any change in cultural change as negative. Not all people see it that way. Many also realise it is inevitable.

  5. Lawrence

    Indeed, it’s high time we backward little Englanders embrace the cultural enrichment brought to us by third world migrants, especially the religion of peace.

  6. Kathryn

    Because Christianity never hurt anybody, of course.

  7. Lawrence

    Christianity is wicked, Islamic countries tend to be very peaceful and not at all repressive.

  8. Reconstruct

    I think there is a difference: the teachings of Jesus were pretty much uniformly about the need to love they neighbour as thyself, and I know of no evidence or even legend that he led armies which massacred its enemies and rejoiced over the bloodshed.

    You can’t say the same about Islam, at any stage.

    At some stage, I think we have to acknowledge that in this important respects Islam really is ‘different’ from Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism. . . . or practically any other major religion still extant in the 21st century.

    Blessed are the peacemakers. Remember that one?

  9. madasafish

    yes, it’s not as if we have a housing shortage..

  10. lookingBoy

    Traditional British way of life was one of diseases and poor hygiene. Thank the moors for ruling Europe. Refugees have a right to basic human needs. F*ck your tradition.

  11. Rathomir

    It’s not our duty the prop up Islam in its death throws by allowing people into the country who fundamentally oppose our way of life.
    Yes they look humble getting off the boat, but once they assert themselves, their hate for the kafir will soon become apparent.

    One statistics goes hand in hands with the European counties who accept large number of Muslims. a rise in rape of western women.

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  13. Liberanos

    Asylum seekers must claim refuge in the first safe country they reach. Once they start making choices or pay to be smuggled illegally into far off countries across safe borders, they become economic migrants.

  14. jj

    Go away!

  15. jj

    Everyone hurts everybody, fact. At the moment we are seeing Christianity as the #1st most persecuted religion on earth, that, for me is worrying, especially when you consider all those that live in fear of Islamic State (the biggest example of Islamofascism to date)

  16. jj

    Fact is, you can take in millions, as Lebanon has, but if you can’t house them, can’t feed them, can’t provide healthcare for them, schooling, more roads, more jobs and Jesus knows what else, then your efforts are puerile. Time we learned that it is about time we started looking at the poverty on our doorstep, I’ve worked with the homeless here in the UK, and we do seem to forget about them, did you know for instance that their life expectancy is a mere 44, that’s like Chad’s life expectancy.

  17. jj

    “disease and poor hygiene’, yes, that was the entire world back in the 40s. Thing is, the rest of the world followed where we led.

  18. damon

    Where should these refugees be housed in Britain – in hostels or should they be free to live wherever they can find a place? Should their children be schooled in special schools in their own language, or should they be sent to British state schools? Should they be dispersed all over the UK or be free to live in whatever city they want to?
    What is the upper limit of how many we could take – per year for the next ten years say.

  19. dave

    There isn’t a traditional British way of life, there is as big a cultural gap between the classes as between ethnic groups. What we have is a variety of cultures, all constantly evolving, dependent on class, income, geographic region and ethnicity.

  20. Steve Larson

    Maybe the laws on refugees need to be changed.

  21. Steve Larson

    The homeless aren’t trendy anymore as far as many in the modern left are concerned.

  22. Ali

    Gun at the border, best way

  23. Jane

    Why is it always the UK being pushed to take more refugees – last time I looked the UK land has not increased in size – the population here is well over the top now – schools hospitals transport can’t cope with present numbers – our tolerance is being pushed to the limits! – why do u think ukip is getting more popular

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