I know that many constituents will share my dismay and anguish at the dreadful loss of life we have seen in recent months among people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and at the shocking images of children drowning and people suffocating to death in smugglers’ lorries.
This is now one of the worst humanitarian crises to hit Europe since the Second World War and it is also a test of the British values of compassion and decency we hold so dear.
I have long believed that the government should be doing more to help Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war and that it is shameful that so far the government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme has only helped a couple of hundred Syrian refugees. The previous Shadow Home Secretary called for much greater action on this issue for over 18 months. I raised this matter directly with the Prime Minister, explaining that the city of Liverpool has a very proud tradition of welcoming those fleeing from oppression. I added that I have received hundreds of pieces of correspondence from my constituents, and know that there is bitter disappointment with the lack of ambition from the Prime Minister. You can read this exchange here.
It is as a result of this concerted pressure from constituents and people across the country that the Prime Minister has finally announced that an additional 20,000 places will be made available in the UK for Syrian refugees. These refugees will be taken from camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and resettled in the UK over the next five years.
I welcome the fact that the government has finally changed their position on this, but I do not believe that these plans match up to the scale or immediacy of the crisis. These refugees need help now. There are also serious questions to answer over how many refugees we will take this year and I believe the Prime Minister should reconsider his opposition to taking refugees from Southern European countries who are bearing the brunt of this crisis.
The government should also consider upgrading Britain’s role in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, as well as redoubling efforts to tackle the traffickers and people smugglers who prey on people’s fear and desperation.