There are currently over 4 million Syrian refugees in just five countries; Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt with many more within the EU. It is the largest humanitarian crisis I've seen in my lifetime and it is on our doorstep. It is a massive crisis that merits a much more coordinated international approach than has so far been shown, leaving millions displaced, destitute and vulnerable.
As Mayor of Bristol, one of Britain's major cities and a city with a global outlook, I have been calling on our national government to do more to support local government's response in both the short and the long-term, as we find ourselves under increasing pressure as a result of funding cuts.
As a city with the political will and a heartening popular outpouring of support, we now need government to offer a fully-funded response that matches the needs of the refugees we are desperately trying to help. With increased pressure on essential services, and a dire shortage of social housing, we simply cannot responsibly afford to commit to an open cheque - we need the security from government that we can afford to offer the long-term support these refugees need. This leads to the vital issue of long-term planning.
At the moment the government has committed to taking 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees over the length of this parliament. While this is well directed and is a welcome start, it is, in all honesty, a drop in the ocean compared with the numbers accepted by many of our European partners. In a recent conversation with the Mayor of Athens I was struck by the pressure that just one challenged city is under and how we have to respond as a caring city community and as a civilised nation. Whilst it is vital that we offer a helping hand to those most in need we must also balance this with a proportion of economically active refugees.
This is why last week I talked to and subsequently wrote to Richard Harrington MP, Minister at the Home Office responsible for settling refugees, calling on the government to increase the total to 50,000, to include 30,000 of those more able to contribute to the local and national economy. This approach balances the well founded humanitarian compassion, on which the current national offer is based, with the feasibility of responding more appropriately to the massive scale of this problem.
I have been touched by the generous support offered by individuals, charities, businesses and faith organisations across Bristol, who empower us as a local authority to live up to our designation as a City of Sanctuary. However possibly the biggest and most vital international challenge is to do all we can to tackle this crisis at its source to prevent even greater disasters to come.