THE BLOG

Europe Must Follow UK's Lead on Aid to Syrian Refugees

17/09/2015 16:24 BST | Updated 16/09/2016 10:12 BST

We care for refugees, but we should be angry as well.

From the early days of the refugee exodus from Syria, Britain took a keen interest in their care. The UK aid budget was deployed early on to meet the needs of the first refugee flows. As the numbers grew to more than 4 million refugees outside Syria today, the UK committed over £1 billion to the relief effort over the past three years.

Why then are we seeing such a collapse in the care of refugees around Syria with food rations cut and living conditions deteriorating?

It is largely because our level of effort has not been matched by other donors. We have given more than any other European country. But the gap is even wider that it looks at first sight. If you consider aid contributions as a proportion of the GDP of donor nations, it is clear that Britain is making far more of an effort than other rich countries. For example, given the size of our economy we are giving two and half times more than the US to the refugee response. We are giving 6 times more than Saudi Arabia, and we are giving 38 times more than France. Even the Germans, so generous in their response to the refugees inside Europe, are making only one third of the effort made by the UK to help Syrians in the region.

This is a poor record on burden sharing, in a region so close to Europe that you might expect it to be on the top of European countries' humanitarian agenda. It is also going to cost Europe dear. Germany last week announced a 6 billion Euro package of assistance to the refugees they expect to take in this year.

Chancellor Merkel thinks that the total costs in 2016 might rise to 10 billion Euros. This is a lot more than it costs to provide proper care for refugees closer to Syria. The economics are quite stark. A budget of $2,000 per refugee would provide adequate schooling, housing, food, water and shelter and a chance to invest in small businesses or livelihood development.

The cost of caring for a refugee in Europe is going to be somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. Twenty five times as much per person. This expenditure would not be necessary if the camps around had Syria had been properly funded in the first place.

Economic madness is one thing but the real tragedy is the level of risk refugees are prepared to take in order to leave their camps. Death rates in the sea are up to and sometimes over 10 people per day. With no end to the lethal boat trips in sight.

In terms of the aid effort, the UK not only led the way but also got it right. If other countries had made as much financial effort as the UK, there would indeed by $9 billion available for the relief effort this year.

Enough to pay for a school for every children and economic hope for every family. Because other countries did not help enough, the money available to the UN was prioritised towards basic food and water meaning that education got very little support. Families now see a move to Europe as their only chance of getting their children into school. We have just cause to be angry at the failure of our European colleagues to step up the challenge of this crisis.