Britain accepts 1,500 Syrian refugees

LONDON (AFP) - Britain has granted asylum to around 1,500 Syrians fleeing the brutal conflict in the last year, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg revealed Tuesday, as rights groups and even anti-immigration politicians urged action over the refugee crisis.

The British government has defended its policy of focusing on giving aid to help more than 2.35 million refugees caught up in the civil war, rather than offering a comprehensive resettlement programme.

But Mr Clegg appeared to surprise opposition politicians when he told parliament that Britain had in fact given asylum to some 1,500 Syrian refugees since January 2013.

"We have accepted about 1,500 asylum seekers," he said.

"Of course we should do that. We have accepted hundreds of asylum seekers who have sought and been provided with refuge in this country under our international obligations."

Official figures from the Home Office, or interior ministry, showed Britain has in fact granted asylum to more than 2,000 Syrians since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 - 1,500 of them since last January.

The government had come under unexpected fire last month from Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-immigration UK Independence Party, who criticised it for apparently refusing to resettle Syrian refugees. Amnesty International also accused European leaders last month of a "truly pitiful" response to the crisis.

A Home Office spokeswoman clarified on Tuesday that the government drew a distinction between resettling refugees from Syria, and giving asylum to those who have managed to make their own way to Britain.

"If they've arrived in the UK and made their own way here, that's treated on a case by case basis," the spokeswoman told AFP.

"Our policy is that we're providing in-country aid and assistance in the region." The British government has given some £500 million (S$1.04 billion) of aid to help Syrian civilians caught up in the civil war, including £236 million for neighbouring countries hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.

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