Yesterday the Government announced, with great fanfare, that Britain has now welcomed over 10,000 Syrian refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme launched in 2014. That is 10,000 people who will now have the chance of a better life – supported by communities and councils up and down the UK. We should be proud that we have offered that lifeline to so many. But there is so much more to do.
By the Government’s own ambitions, 10,000 represents just half of those we have promised to resettle by 2020. The Home Secretary appears confident of reaching the 20,000 target, but that is still two years away. If we’re going to honour our promise to Syrian refugees, then let’s put in the resources to achieving that more quickly, and save families from two more bitter winters in camps scattered across the region. New considerations to continue resettling refugees beyond the 2020 deadline are welcome, but too many people still living in desperation and uncertainty.
The Government argue that by taking refugees solely from the region they are encouraging people to stay put in the camps there rather than make treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean to the safety of Europe. But the situation in those camps is getting desperate. Refugees now outnumber the native Lebanese population, for example, leading to overwhelmed facilities from sewage to education. It is no wonder then that people are still choosing to put their lives in the hands of evil traffickers. Over 9,000 have made the journey so far in 2018, with 382 refugees feared drowned. These tragedies may have dropped off the media’s radar, but this is a problem to which there is still no solution.
In the meantime, we shouldn’t lose sight of the plight for those closer to home. By focusing on relatively well-organised camps in the region, Amber Rudd is turning a blind eye to refugees who have already made the terrifying journey as far as France, Italy and Greece.
More than half of those who arrived in Greece in 2018 alone are women and children, with the majority coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Let’s now allow anyone to tell us that these are young migrant men seeking work. The future for those women and children looks bleak. Camps like Moria, originally set up as a temporary solution for 2,000 people, is now home to over 5,000 people living in shared, cramped conditions. Sexual violence and a lack of hygiene are part and parcel of daily life. Children, instead of going to school, are forced to queue for food. Yet our government is turning its back.
I would urge the Home Secretary to come with me to these camps in Europe and see the situation first-hand. If these were our loved-ones, we would want someone to step in and help, whether in the squalid camps of Europe or for refugees abandoned on the borders of their war-torn homes. Britain is a compassionate country and we should never forget those in need.
Let’s start with the young kids who have lost their families, and families with children whose future is in jeopardy, with no hope for education or therapy. 10,000 is a good start, but it is only that.
Tim Farron is the Lib Dem MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale