Edward Heath admitted 27,000 Ugandan Asians , Thatcher admitted 24,500 Vietnamese refugees and John Major took in 4,000 Bosnians. Cameron has taken 200 Syrians.
In the last 24 hours the front pages of our newspapers have shown us pictures of the lifeless body of a toddler, washed up on a Turkish beach. His name was Aylan Kurdi and he was three years old when he died. His five-year-old brother Galip also drowned along with their mother Rehan.
The family had fled from a village just outside Kobani in northern Syria, scene of intense fighting between ISIS and Kurdish forces. They are among the most recent refugee fatalities who have lost their lives in their desperate attempts to reach safety. By the time this blog is posted, it is certain that more refugees will have drowned.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that since January of this year, over 350,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean, mostly to Italy and Greece. The vast majority are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, with Syrians and Eritreans being the two largest groups. Many of those fleeing go on to apply for asylum with nearly 500,000 new asylum applications submitted in EU states since January 2015.
Germany and Hungary receive the largest number of new applications – over 200,000 and 70,000 respectively. In contrast, the UK received just over 12,000 asylum applications in the first six months of this year.
Aylan’s image and the suffocation of 71 refugees in Austria last week have sparked louder calls for a more coordinated humanitarian response to the refugees fleeing to Europe. There have been demonstrations in support of refugees in many European capitals. But humanity and coordination seem in short supply, with many EU governments unwilling to act.
In response to the growing Mediterranean crisis, the European Commission published its new Agenda on Migration in June this year. This plan increased the budget for the Frontex-coordinated Operations Triton and Poseidon, maritime search and rescue operations off Italy and Greece. The Agenda on Migration also proposed two voluntary relocation schemes, resettling 20,000 Syrians and Eritreans and 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece.
The EU response has been driven by the French and German governments, which have both called for a greater sharing of responsibility for refugees among EU members.
The UK has declined to be part of the two proposed resettlement programmes. So far, the UK has admitted just over 200 Syrian refugees through a Vulnerable Refugee Resettlement programme that began operation in early 2014. A further 6,000 Syrians have made their own way here and applied for asylum.
Yvette Copper, the shadow home secretary, has now called on the government to admit more refugees. She has requested that the government expand the Gateway Protection Programme which brings small numbers of refugees to the UK every year.
On arrival, they receive a 12-month integration programme delivered by local authorities and non-governmental organisations such as the Refugee Council. Yvette Cooper’s suggestions would mean that up to 10,000 refugees would be brought to the UK, with responsibility for them shared evenly across the country.
The Gateway programme is the latest of a number of refugee resettlement schemes, including ones to resettle Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese, Bosnians and Kosovars. Edward Heath admitted 27,000 Ugandan Asians in 1972, Thatcher admitted 24,500 Vietnamese refugees between 1979 and 1992 and John Major agreed to take in 4,000 Bosnians.
Yesterday, David Cameron made clear that the UK government would not admit more refugees. His response and use of language sets him aside from Angela Merkel and from Tory leaders such as Heath, Thatcher and Major who have shown generosity to refugees in the past.
His response lacks humanity and shows that the UK wants a one-sided relationship with the EU in which this country accepts as few European obligations as possible, but retains all the gains.
Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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