THE BLOG
05/09/2015 09:18 BST | Updated 04/09/2016 06:59 BST

Why Britain Must Take More Refugees - And Why the British Public Agrees

As public demands increase for Britain to let more refugees into Britain in the wake of the harrowing pictures of tragic three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up a Turkish beach, and more than 370,000 people have signed a petition to accept more asylum seekers, evidence is growing that increasing numbers of British citizens want to give refugees a place to stay in their homes.

Three arguments support the UK Government and indeed all EU states doing more to support refugee resettlement in our countries: a practical and humanitarian one that seeks to maximize the number of lives saved; an economic one that highlights the benefits to our economy; and finally a moral or perhaps even existential one about what it means to be British or European.

Ordinary people in Britain - if not yet the Government - increasingly accept that these arguments require us to act and do what we can to save refugees from Syria. A recent YouGov poll - taken before the harrowing photos of the toddler were published - showed that 11% of the public would house refugee families for six months. These findings indicate a level of kindness that will help people fleeing war zones such as Syria settle down after the trauma of their experience and journey.

Many Britons have a strong humanitarian commitment towards those escaping persecution, a sentiment that is not reflected often enough by politicians and commentators. That now appears to be changing, with journalists documenting the many ordinary citizens in the UK following those from Iceland to Germany in offering to house or support refugees.

More than 3,800 people have already volunteered to help Syrian asylum seekers on the Avaaz website, and many hundreds in Germany have pledged help on the Refugees Welcome site. The UK site Spare Room, working with churches, have already placed dozens of refugees with British families.

Many more families are willing to open their doors to those fleeing persecution. This will help neutralise one of the main objections to Britain accepting more asylum seekers, namely the country's ability to absorb them. With people voluntarily agreeing to live together, Britain may even become a more at ease multicultural society, with reduced cultural barriers and misconceptions.

These interventions in no way absolve the Government of taking further action, in Europe and in Syria, but it can also do more to help citizens who want to do something now. David Cameron should allow local authorities to set up registers of willing families and allocate refugees to houses. There could be a small allowance, set at 50% of the average cost of placing an asylum seeker in a B&B, or, as Jonathan Freedland argues, the Government could increase the number of refugees housed under the European Commission-funded Gateway project from the current risible level of 750. Because so many people want to host refugees, it is crucial that the Government efficiently manages any such increase to more easily match families with refugees, and ensure there is a framework that keeps everything running smoothly without abuse.

With Cameron now saying he will accept "thousands" more refugees the desire on the part of millions of UK and European citizens to open their homes will not just save millions of lives but also boost the integration of newly-arrived families into society and help increase understanding between communities.

Britain's future prosperity will further benefit from those who stay and contribute their talents and entrepreneurial skills to boosting the economy. The OECD has noted the need for Europe to admit more migrants - probably at least 50 million in the next 40 years - asd f in order to sustain economic growth.

But it's not just about humanitarian need or economic benefit. The current events raise a fundamental question about what defines us, or who we are. Are we a country or continent defined by our commitment to values such as humanitarianism, freedom, equality and democracy, or have we reverted to pre-modern notions that what unites us are rather tribal, ethnic or religious ties, thus discounting the moral claims of non-Europeans?

While the postwar European project is typically framed in terms of learning from the horrors of World War II, British de-colonisalition and post-Windrush migration is supposed to represent a similar move towards a non-racist, inclusive and democratic society. The current refugee crisis shows how much further the UK and Europe has to go to realise these ideals.

Such lofty talk of ideals will perhaps be unwelcome in London, Brussels, or other European capitals. So let me conclude with a policy language our political leaders have been keen to promote. Helping citizens to welcome refugee families into their homes is the very embodiment of the Big Society. What better way to be One Nation than to welcome asylum seeking families into our homes?

Dr Omar Khan is Director of theRunnymede Trust