Lord Roberts: Government’s response to the refugee crisis 'lacks vision, determination and outright compassion'
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Roberts of Llandudno writes about his parliamentary question today: 'To ask Her Majesty’s Government what actions they are taking to help resolve the refugee crisis in Syria'.
In September 2015, amid widespread public outcry over the UK’s lack of a response to the Mediterranean refugee crisis, David Cameron’s Government agreed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK by 2020 under the Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Relocation Scheme.
Yet, the latest Home Office figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request show that, in the two years to June 2016, just under 3,000 refugees have actually arrived in the UK. In other words, an average of less than 1,500 refugees are being resettled each year. This is far below the 4,000 per year necessary to reach the Government’s 20,000 goal. In other words, unless the number of refugees being resettled increases drastically, the Government’s pledge will be broken. Yet, seemingly in denial about the very real possibility of not fulfilling this promise, the Government remains adamant that it is on track to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020.
However, there was a glimmer of hope in the form of Section 67 of the Immigration Act. Under the so-called “Dubs Amendment” the Government has the ability to relocate as many unaccompanied asylum seeking children as it sees fit; the exact number is, potentially, infinite. This afforded the Government another opportunity to lead the way in offering a comprehensive, substantive and compassionate response to the crisis. Yet, the most recent figures suggest that just over 750 children have been resettled in the UK. However, this figure includes children transferred under the European Dublin III Regulations, so the actual number of children transferred under the Dubs amendment alone will be much lower. This is a far cry from the 3,000 figure stipulated in the original amendment, and contrary to the spirit in which the amendment was passed in the House of Lords. Lord Dubs himself has called it a ‘betrayal’.
This response seems even more woeful when set against a backdrop of continued conflict in the Syria. In some parts of the country the most recent ceasefire is not holding. Yesterday reports emerged that the 100,000 trapped in the besieges villages of Wadi Barada have suffered 19 days of continuous airstrikes at the hands of Hezbollah and the Assad regime.
However, British forces have the capacity to provide substantive humanitarian aid to the besieged areas via airdrop. Wadi Barada’s proximity to the Lebanese border means it is possible to use JPADS parachute to remotely guide aid packages into besieged Syrian areas from the safety of Lebanese airspace. However, this is a concept Government officials have repeatedly rejected.
Yet, if the British Government is not willing to conduct airdrops they must find an alternative means of doing their part to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis; accepting child refugees is a good place to start.
Finally, the United Kingdom is a modern, developed country which has the capacity to do more to help those suffering in this crisis. All is required, is more political will power. Indeed, nothing condemns us more than a lack of vision, determination and outright compassion.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat peer