AS SYRIA's neighbours are pushed to breaking point by the flood
of 3.2 million refugees, several Church of England bishops have
criticised the response by the British Government as "miserably
Five bishops - Norwich, Manchester, Worcester, Coventry, and St
Albans - lent their support this week to a call to the Prime
Minister by more than 30 agencies, including Christian Aid, Oxfam,
and Save the Children, to resettle up to 10,000 Syrians: "a modest
but proportionate contribution".
The appeal was issuedin advance of a conference on resettlement
to be held next Tuesday by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in
Geneva. The UN has asked member states to provide homes for 100,000
Syrian refugees during 2015 and 2016. To date, EU member states
have committed themselves to hosting 33,000 refugees. Germany alone
will take 28,500. On Thursday of last week, immigration figures
showed that Britain had taken 90 Syrian refugees under the
Government's Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, announced
"The UK has been miserably mean in receiving Syrian refugees,
many of them Christians facing the prospect of forced conversion or
death," the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said on
"We must recognise the desperate plight of so many minorities in
Syria. Such refugees have the sort of resilience, faith, and
resourcefulness which would make them model citizens. We have
nothing to fear in allowing a greater number to come to this
country if they wish to do so."
"The repeated assertion that the UK stands ready to consider
genuine requests for refuge and resettlement . . . looks pretty
hollow," the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said, also on
Tuesday. "Modest resettlement in Britain, along the lines proposed
by our leading relief charities, is not an optional extra."
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said that his call in
August to increase admittance "seems to have fallen on deaf ears"
(News, 8 August).
The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, said that his
city had "opened its arms" to Syrian refugees. "The scheme is going
well, and people on the brink of annihilation are being brought
back to life. Although we have only a small number of refugees,
it's actually a large proportion of Britain's intake so far. That
only goes to show how modest the UK's resettlement scheme is."
He warned that both Lebanon and Jordan were "near breaking
point, and threatening to close their borders". In the former,
Syrian refugees, arriving at a rate of 10,000 a week, now
constitute a quarter of the population. Last month, the Norwegian
Refugee Council reported that, in October, 60 per cent of Syrian
refugees trying to cross into Lebanon were turned away.
Research by Amnesty International highlighted destitution among
1.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey; those attempting to enter
faced being pushed back and subjected to live fire at the border.
The response of the international community to the "world's worst
refugee crisis in a generation" had been "an abject failure", the
The Government appears unlikely to improve its commitment to
resettlement. A Foreigh Offfice Minister, Tobias Ellwood, said on
Tuesday that "it is best that refugees are kept closer to the
region so that they can return." He spoke of the £273 million
provided by the Government "to help with stability in the area and
to support refugees there".
A similar response was given in the House of Lords. After
hearing the international-development minister Baroness Northover
argue that the UK was "contributing disproportionately in
supporting those in the region", the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan
Smith, said that the Government must "expedite the arrival of
refugees much more speedily".
Dr Cocksworth agreed. "It would be a tragedy if it were to say
to suffering Syrians, 'There is no room in our inn.'"
Question of the week: Should Britain accept more Syrian
Money runs out for refugees' food
A FUNDING crisis has forced the UN World Food Programme
(WFP) to suspend food vouchers for more than 1.7 million Syrian
refugees, writes Madeleine Davies.
It warned in September that it had no money for
programmes in December. A statement said on Monday that many donor
commitments remained "unfulfilled". A total of $64 million is
required immediately to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring
countries this month.
The voucher programme has injected $800 million into the
economies of neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees since
2011. The vouchers can be used to buy food in shops in Jordan,
Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. The suspension of the programme
is expected to be particularly severe in its impact in
The executive director of the WFP, Ertharin Cousin, said
on Monday that the freeze on vouchers would have a "disastrous"
impact on refugee families, and could cause "further tensions,
instability, and insecurity" in the host countries.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres,
said that the news "couldn't come at a worse time. Winter is
already an extremely difficult period for Syrian refugees, but the
suspension of food assistance at this critical juncture is going to
A spokeswoman for the WFP said that it had stockpiles of
food that it was sending inside Syria, but that these would run out
in Jan- uary.
World Vision's regional response director for Syria,
Wynn Flaten, said on Tuesday that the charity was "urgently working
to plug funding gaps" emerging as a result of the WFP's
announcement. "We are particularly concerned that security may