09/10/2013 13:35 BST | Updated 09/12/2013 05:12 GMT

The UK Must Help Syrian Refugees

Syria is the greatest refugee crisis of our time. The numbers are shocking. More than two million refugees have spilled into neighbouring countries, over half of whom are children. And with no end to the conflict in sight, we expect the crisis to deepen as we head into the winter months.

The UK's response to date has been serious and substantial. David Cameron has pledged that Britain is not a country that will stand by and fail to act, and the Government has committed £500million in humanitarian aid.

But given the scale and the gravity of the tragedy unfolding across the region, financial assistance alone will not be enough. We believe that the time has come for the UK Government to take practical action to help relieve the pressure on Syria's neighbours by developing and implementing a coordinated European wide evacuation and resettlement programme.

The UK's leading refugee charities recently made a plea to the Prime Minister to take urgent action, but the call has not yet been heeded.

Figures indicate that just 0.1% of the two million Syrians registered as refugees have found safety in the UK. The vast majority are seeking protection in one of the neighbouring countries in extremely difficult conditions, with 97% hosted by Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

In Lebanon, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, an estimated one in every seven people is now a Syrian refugee. The number of refugees in Iraq may reach 350,000 by the end of the year.

It is no exaggeration to say that neighbouring countries are being pushed to breaking point. They are now appealing to Western governments for help.

But the response by the international community has been slow. Last week 17 countries agreed to take resettled refugees. However, despite the UK's proud tradition of protecting refugees, and our experience, over many years, of running a UK resettlement programme, our Government have yet to commit to similar action.

What we're suggesting isn't unprecedented. During the Balkan crisis in the 1990s, plans were put in place to accept thousands of Kosovan refugees into the UK for an initial fixed period. We've done this before. We can do this again. We just need the Government to be bold enough to lead the way.

The risks of inaction are high. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has recently warned that the mounting refugee crisis could have catastrophic implications for the region if left unaddressed.

We must act quickly to provide safe passage to Europe for those least able to cope with the conditions and privations of the overcrowded refugee camps in the region . The UK Government has a real opportunity to show leadership on this issue, and to send a clear message to Syrian refugees: we see your suffering, we're shocked by it, and we won't stand by and let it continue.

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