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Pressure mounts on Government to do more for refugees

16 October 2015


Arrivals: refugees on the coast of the island of Lesbos

Arrivals: refugees on the coast of the island of Lesbos

THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has called on the Prime Minister to speed up the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the UK.

“We want the Government to do more than they have promised, and at greater speed,” he said. “It would be much better if no one died in the camps this winter.”

Bishop Butler, who chairs the National Refugee Welcome Board, was speaking at a rally in Westminster, organised by Citizens UK, on Tuesday evening. He was joined by Yvette Cooper MP and Tim Farron MP, to lay wreaths in remembrance of the six children who died in freezing conditions in refugee camps last winter.

Citizens UK wants Mr Cameron to “break the deadlock” between central government and local authorities, and increase the number and rate at which refugees are housed. Since Mr Cameron pledged last month to take 20,000 Syrian refugees into the UK in the next five years, fewer than 100 refugees have arrived.

The campaign group is lobbying for at least 1000 of the most vulnerable refugees to be brought to the UK before Christmas.

Old Palace Yard was full of protesters. Among them were council leaders and private landlords, who are offering their properties to house incoming refugees.

A British-born Syrian, Rozan, said that she had been unable to bring her family to the UK, and that many had died as a result. “We have been spewing about refugees for years,” she said. “Finally there is some movement — though it should not have taken an image of a dead child to trigger it.”

Candles were lit, and silence fell over the crowd as six white wreaths were laid at the foot of the George V statue, to commemorate the dead. Many protesters held banners emblazoned with the slogan: “We the people welcome refugees.”

Citizens UK is running a programme to help churches, schools, and colleges organise housing, health care, and language classes for refugees. Figures from the charity suggest that 37 councils across the country are committing to resettling at least 50 refugees each, making a total of 3047.

Universities, including LSE, Warwick, York, SOAS, and Edinburgh, have pledged £3.5 million in scholarships to fund 147 places for Syrians. More than 727 private landlords have registered their properties to be used by Syrian refugees through Avaaz, 38 Degrees, and Citizens UK.

On Friday the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, and the RC Bishop of Arundel & Brighton, Richard Moth, called on the community in Sussex to use its “experience of refugees” to respond practically to the current crisis.

Senior lawyers, former law lords, and retired judges published an open letter on Monday criticising the Government’s “too low, too slow and too narrow” response to the crisis. A former UK head of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, and former Justice of the Supreme Court, Lord Walker, are among 300 to sign. The letter states that the current offer to accommodate 20,000 Syrian refugees in five years is “deeply inadequate”.

And Portsmouth Cathedral says it is “embarrassed and appalled” by statements by Portsmouth City Council saying that it is unable to accommodate refugees.

The council’s rejection of asylum seekers is “mean-spirited and narrow-minded”, a statement said.

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