LISBON • Britain will take thousands more Syrian refugees, Prime Minister David Cameron has said, changing his stance amid growing pressure at home.
"Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the people, I can announce today that we will do more, and will welcome thousands more Syrian refugees under existing schemes which we'll keep under review," he said in Lisbon yesterday. "Britain will act with our head and our heart, providing refuge for those in need while working on a long-term solution to the Syria crisis."
A petition to Parliament urging Britain to accept more refugees has garnered nearly 250,000 signatures, while campaign group Avaaz said that 2,000 Britons had volunteered to host refugee families. Several editorials harked back to when Britain accepted huge numbers of refugees before and after World War II, and around the Balkan Wars.
Britain has accepted 216 Syrian refugees under a special scheme over the past year, and around 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum since the conflict there broke out in 2011 - far fewer than in countries like France, Germany and Sweden.
Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the people, I can announce today that we will do more, and will welcome thousands more Syrian refugees under existing schemes which we'll keep under review.
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON, after a petition was sent to Parliament urging Britain to accept more refugees
Mr Cameron had previously insisted that Britain was already doing a lot, including sending aid to Syrian refugee camps in the Middle East and dispatching the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean to help rescue migrants from dangerous boats.
Meanwhile, the United States is also under pressure to do more to help the desperate victims of Syria's civil war.
Since fighting erupted in 2011, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has recommended 17,000 Syrians for resettlement in the US. By the end of this month, it will have accepted around 1,800. Traditionally, the US has led the world in accepting those fleeing persecution, but refugee advocates warn it has fallen behind on Syria.
The US has promised to do more if it can, but Syrian refugees - even those screened and approved by the UNHCR - are subject to stringent and lengthy US security checks.
More than four million people have fled Syria's brutal civil war and have been packed into camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan.
And, as the resettlement process drags on, more and more refugees leave the camps and try to make their own way to the West, with often tragic consequences.