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Refugees: UK has made a very good start, says PM

18 December 2015


Updated: crib in San Anton, Madrid, replaces the model of Jesus with Alan, or Aylan, a child refugee found drowned in the Mediterranean

Updated: crib in San Anton, Madrid, replaces the model of Jesus with Alan, or Aylan, a child refugee found drowned in the Mediterranean

THE Prime Minister announced last week that the target of receiving 1000 refugees from camps bordering Syria into the UK before Christmas had been met.

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons before the break, Mr Cameron said that reaching the milestone was a "very good start" to fulfilling the Government’s commitment to resettling 20,000 refugees from the war-torn country in the next five years.

"The charter flights that arrived yesterday at Stansted and Belfast mean that over a thousand have been settled, and another flight is coming today," he said.

The first 100 refugees arrived in Scotland from Syria in November. On Tuesday, 51 refugees arrived in Belfast from camps in Lebanon, as part of the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. Eleven of those were children under five.

The announcement comes after the Archbishop of Canterbury urged the Government to be "just as generous again" in the resettlement process, and the people of the UK to "demonstrate our shared humanity" by welcoming more people fleeing from conflict.

"The families coming to us from Syria will be among the most vulnerable and traumatised people affected by this crisis," Archbishop Welby writes in the December Big Issue. "This is a moment for all of us in the UK to demonstrate our shared humanity with those for whom daily life has become dominated by fear, violence, and suffering."

He writes that the UK should remember its "long and wonderful history of offering shelter. . . Even as we start to welcome those first refugees from the Syrian camps, there are still doubts and fears. Do we have room? Do we have the money? Will our communities fragment? Are we putting ourselves at risk?

"It’s always been controversial at the time. It’s always been seen as too difficult. Yet, each time, we have risen to the challenge, and benefited from the gifts those coming to us bring."

The Under Secretary of State for Refugees, Richard Harrington, confirmed in the Commons on Monday that 50 councils had agreed to house Syrian refugees. On Wednesday, councils in Yorkshire and the Humber region said that they would take a further 1500 refugees. More than 100 are already living in the region.

The International Organisation for Migration reported on Friday that the number of migrants and refugees entering Europe is expected to pass one million on Tuesday next week. The organisation, based in Geneva, estimated that 991,000 have crossed into Europe this year. The majority, including around 455,000 Syrians, have travelled from Turkey to Greece. There have been 422 deaths at sea since 16 October, the group said.

Nine million Syrians are estimated to have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in 2011. Archbishop Welby writes about the harrowing image of three-year-old Alan, whose body was photographed after having been washed up on the shores of Greece: "My experience, having worked in this area for many years, is that you very seldom meet people who want to be refugees. It is a desperate, awful, terrible existence."

Refugees from Syria are the subject of much church action and comment in the run-up to Christmas.

In Nottinghamshire, faith leaders, among them the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, have signed a joint statement urging people of all faiths and none to "come together" to welcome and support refugees this Christmas.

In his Christmas message, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, compared the "lengthy and stressful experience" of travelling home for Christmas with the "perilous paths" of refugees fleeing conflict and persecution.

In Truro, three parishioners from All Saints’, Highertown, visited the Jungle, the Calais refugee camp, for a second time earlier this month, with supplies for those who, it seems likely, will be spending the winter there.

The volunteers visited the camp in August to deliver more than 500 boxes of essential items, including blankets, shoes, sleeping bags, tents, and tarpaulins (News, 28 August). The church also made donations to cover the travelling costs.

The Priest-in-Charge of All Saints’, the Revd Jeremy Putnam, reported that the biggest need was items for young men.

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