More than 40 local councils in the UK say they are ready to offer sanctuary to refugees fleeing war-ravaged Syria, Labour’s Yvette Cooper has said.
The shadow home secretary said councils had replied within 24 hours to her request for each to accept 10 families.
PM David Cameron announced on Friday that theUK would take in “thousands” more Syrian refugees.
The Local Government Association said it was vital public services were given the right resources to support this.
An exact figure on how many people the UK will take in is yet to be decided, but the prime minister made it clear the extra refugees would come from camps bordering Syria, and not from among those already in Europe.
In other developments:
- The SNP says it will use its opposition day debate in the Commons on Wednesday to hold the UK government to account over its stance on the refugee crisis
- Migrants are arriving in Austria after Hungary’s decision to provide buses for them
- Bristol’s mayor has urged people to find a spare room in their homes for refugees
- A petition calling for Britain to take on more refugees has now accrued almost 400,000 signatures – four times the amount needed for the issue to be considered for debate by MPs
Calls for the UK to take in more refugees have intensified after the publication of a picture of the body of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach.
On Friday, during a visit to Portugal and Spain, Mr Cameron said the UK would act with “our head and our heart” on a major expansion of the programme to resettle vulnerable refugees from the camps bordering Syria.
He said the scheme would avoid the need for the refugees to make hazardous attempts to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, which has seen thousands perish in recent months.
Ms Cooper said it was up to the government to work with local authorities to ensure as many people as possible were helped.
She said: “There is a real determination and rising sense of moral purpose across Britain to help desperate families. But now the prime minister needs to match it.”
Ms Cooper, who is standing for the Labour leadership alongside Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall, also reiterated her plea for the UK to take in 10,000 Syrians.
Councillor David Simmonds, from the Local Government Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The big challenge is that there’s been a lot of well-publicised pressure on our public services, school places, hospital access, housing – in many parts of the country.
“We need to make sure that if people are going to be moved to the UK, that we’ve a clear idea of what the cost is going to be, to provide the public services that they expect when they come here.”
Mr Simmonds said councils in England were already supporting 2,000 unaccompanied refugee children at a cost of £50,000 each year per child.
A further £150m a year was being spent on destitute families whose asylum applications had been turned down, but who remained in the UK, he added.
Migrants or refugees?
The word migrant is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “one who moves, either temporarily or permanently, from one place, area, or country of residence to another”.
A refugee is, according to the 1951 Refugee Convention, any person who “owing to a well-founded fear” of persecution is outside their country of nationality and “unable” or “unwilling” to seek the protection of that country. To gain the status, one has to go through the legal process of claiming asylum.
The word migrant has traditionally been considered a neutral term, but some criticise the BBC and other media for using a word they say implies something voluntary, and should not be applied to people fleeing danger.
Sir John Holmes, a former British diplomat who was the UN’s undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said the migrant crisis needed a diplomatic solution in Syria.
“We, like many other people, have really got to start making a huge diplomatic effort now to solve these problems in Syria and elsewhere – military action may be part of that, but that’s not really going to solve it either.”
Meanwhile, International Development Secretary Justine Greening has dismissed the prospect of Britain joining a proposed EU plan to redistribute the 160,000 migrants already in Europe, arguing that it “simply fuels the people smuggling business”.
“It’s much smarter and safer to help them directly relocate from refugee camps,” she added.
Over the past four years nearly 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in the UK, Downing Street sources told the BBC.
However, under the government’s official relocation programme, which began early last year, 216 Syrian refugees have been allowed sanctuary in the UK.