In Britain the outcry following the death of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi – who was photographed lying dead on a beach – plus some intense domestic and international pressure, have forced the government to change its stance on refugees from Syria.
Speaking in Lisbon on Friday at a meeting on migration and EU reform, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the UK would provide resettlement for thousands more people from the war-torn country.
Earlier this week, before the images of the dead boy appeared, he said Britain would not accept ‘more and more refugees’.
But his main argument remains the same: opening borders and enforcing quotas will not solve the refugee crisis.
“We are taking thousands of people and we will take thousands of people… We keep numbers under review and there’s always more we can do, but there isn’t a solution that’s simply about taking people. It’s got to be a comprehensive solution that solves every part of the problem,” Cameron said before his departure for Portugal.
About 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in Britain since the war began. Just over 200 have been accepted since last year under a relocation scheme.
Those figures are set to increase under plans being drawn up by officials but no new target has yet been set.
Some religious figures and charities, such as Save the Children which is calling on Britain to take in its ‘fair share of refugees’, are quoting the same number that they consider appropriate.
“Save the Children has always said that the UK could take in 10,000 Syrian refugees. That would be our fair share and we calculate that according to the population of the UK, our GDP, our unemployment rate compared to other European countries. And we could take in 10,000. And that would be our fair share for the Syrians. There are 11 million Syrians who have had to flee their homes. We want to see David Cameron agreeing to take in 10,000,” said Save the Children’s spokeswoman Gemma Parkin.
It’s thought that people selected to come to Britain could be taken from UN camps on the Syrian border, rather than from those already in Europe.
The government – which points out that it has given over a billion euros in aid for Syrian refugees – will set out details of its plans next week, Cameron said.
Britain sees itself as a country with a long tradition of granting people refuge from persecution.
A petition on a UK government website calls on the British government to accept more asylum seekers and increase support for migrant refugees. By mid-morning on Friday it had obtained more than 350,000 signatures.
The government accepts it is under a moral duty to do more, but it’s likely to be wary of an EU-led scheme imposing quotas – and of sending the wrong message to people smugglers.