18/09/2015 17:35 BST | Updated 18/09/2015 23:59 BST

Britain's 'Refugee Welcome Board' Is A Far Cry From Europe's Closed Borders And Razor-Wire Fences

Across southeast Europe, nations have closed borders, blocked bridges, shut down trains and even built new razor-wire fences in a rush to block tens of thousands seeking safety in Western Europe from crossing their territories.

The rapid-fire, often contradictory border decisions came as each nation tried to shift the burden of handling the huge influx onto their neighbours, leaving refugees even more angry, confused and desperate.

Croatia announced on Friday that it has no more room for refugees, closing seven of its eight road crossings to Serbia after 14,000 migrants entered over the past two days.

refugee march london

100,000 people marched in London last week in support of refugees

But while the welcome mat is being pulled up across Europe, a group of campaigning Britons have launched an official group dedicated to offering "a welcome that Britain can be proud of".

The new 'Refugee Welcome Board', will work to settle refugees in the UK. It is made up of religious leaders, housing experts and fostering experts, and funded by over £200,000 of crowd-funded money, and launched this week.

It plans to help refugees integrate into communities by introducing them to locals, refer families who want to foster children to the right agencies, and help make housing available for those seeking asylum in Britain.

It will link together religious groups, doctors, charities and volunteers to rehouse refugees and give them welcome packs with 'essentials for life in Britain.'

Childrens' pyjamas and books, toiletries, a warm blanket and information about the local area could be included in the welcome packs.

The board, set up by Citizens UK and campaign site 38 Degrees, follows complaints that the government's offer to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees in the next five years is nowhere near enough. The news prompted thousands to come forward and offer to accept people into their homes.

"The government needs to know that if they won’t lead the way, the British people will," said Rebecca Falcon, campaigns manager at 38 Degrees whose members contributed over £180,000 of donations to the board.

A 38 Degrees video released this week shows refugees in this country saying "Thank you Britain" for offering them sanctury from the horrors of war:

The campaign comes as it was revealed the UK accepted just 3.5% of the refugees applying for asylum in the EU, making the country seventh out of the 28 member states in terms of accepting people.

Falcon says the money its members have donated shows the UK will welcome refugees with open arms: “The refugee crisis is happening now and people across the UK are willing and ready to accept more refugees this year."

refugee march london

Brits held up 'Refugees Welcome' banners at the march in London

Members of 38 Degrees have campaigned for 620 local councils to house refugees in their area. Over twenty have now formally pledged to do so.

Citizens UK says 596 landlords have stepped forward in the last week to offer their properties for refugees.

Zrinka Bralo, herself a Bosnian refugee and chair of the board, says: “This is a global crisis and we need to make sure as a country we live up to our tradition of offering support to those in need of protection."


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“Children fleeing Nazi Germany, Polish pilots who fought alongside us in the Battle of Britain, Asian Ugandans fleeing Idi Amin, Vietnamese Boat People, those who fled Bosnia like me - at each time people have come to the UK and found welcome. At each time civil society has played a major role in welcoming and supporting those arriving.

“People are stepping forward in their tens and hundreds of thousands to help. This board will help coordinate and mobilise the country to help government and charities respond to this historic crisis. We will stand together and continue to make the case for our country to lead international efforts to rise to this historic crisis.”

Faith leaders on the board include Church of England Bishop Paul Butler, catholic bishop Pat Lynch, Rabbi Danny Rich and Lynn Green, the Secretary General of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

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Migrants wait to board busses at Tovarnik railway station after crossing from Serbia

After chaotic scenes at the border on Thursday, Croatia closed all but one of its border crossings with Serbia, when dozens of migrants were trampled in the rush to get a seat on a bus or train.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic declared that his nation of 4.2 million could no longer cope with asylum seeker applications, the Associated Press reported.

Those reaching Hungary from the Middle East or Africa will be told to keep moving on toward Hungary or Slovenia.

"We have hearts, but we also have heads," said Milanovic according to Reuters.

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Refugees arriving in Croatia

"What else can we do?" he said at a news conference. "You are welcome in Croatia and you can pass through Croatia. But go on. Not because we don't like you, but because this is not your final destination."

Huge numbers have surged into Croatia after Hungary erected a barbed wire-fence on its border with Serbia and took other tough measures to stop migrants from coming in, including spraying crowds at the border with tear gas and water cannons.

Croatia represents a longer and more difficult route to the wealthier nations of the European Union, but those fleeing violence in their homelands, such as Syrians and Iraqis, had little choice.

The UN refugee agency warned Friday of a "buildup" of migrants in Serbia as its neighbors tightened their borders.

"The crisis is growing and being pushed from one country to another," said Adrian Edwards of UNHCR. "You aren't going to solve these problems by closing borders."

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Hungary, meanwhile, started building another razor-wire fence overnight, this time along a stretch of its border with Croatia to keep migrants from entering the country there, a quicker route to Western Europe than through Slovenia.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the first phase of the 25-mile barrier on the Croatian border will be completed by Friday night, with coils of razor wire being laid down before the actual fence goes up. In addition, he said 1,800 soldiers and 800 police were being sent to the border with Croatia over the next days to keep out migrants.

Orban lashed out at those in the West who have criticized his handling of the migrant crisis.

"The critical voices from there are not calming down," Orban said, adding that European politics and media are governed by a "suicidal liberalism" that "puts our way of life at risk."

Some humanitarian groups appealed for a more unified response. A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, Babar Baloch, said countries cannot cope individually.

"What's missing is a collective EU action," he said. "Countries have been trying to deal with it on their own and then at some stage they say they can't. So they need to do it together."

UNHCR says more than 442,440 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year and 2,921 have died trying. The International Organization for Migration puts those figures at 473,887 and 2,812 respectively.