Cameron challenged on closed door to Syrian refugees

By staff writers
22 Jan 2014

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is among agencies signing an Open Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to join the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) global settlement programme for Syrian refugees.

In a letter published in the Independent newspaper on 21 January 2013, the humanitarian agencies ask Mr Cameron to show compassion to the hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing the conflict in Syria and their families in the United Kingdom.

Others backing the communique include CAFOD, Christian Aid, Save the Children and Muslim Relief, as well as several other bodies who work directly with refugees.

They ask how the UK can call on Syria's neighbours to keep their borders open to refugees if it keeps its own under lock and key.

Writing to the UK government on behalf of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria who are struggling to survive in crowded refugee camps and makeshift shelters, agencies including JRS have witnessed and survived unimaginable horrors.

The directors of these agencies point out that Syrians living in the UK are desperately worried about their families and they should be allowed to reunite with their loved ones.

"The UK deserves credit for its leadership in providing assistance to refugees in the region, including £600 million in aid, helping millions of families survive," the Open Letter says.

"However, given the scale and the gravity of the humanitarian crisis unfolding across the region, we would urge the UK to join the 18 other states participating in UNHCR's global resettlement programme."

UNHCR has appealed for western governments to accept 30,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from the region. This would include women at risk, children who are in need of special assistance, vulnerable older adults and torture survivors who will simply struggle to survive in the harsh conditions in the region.

"We must play our part in offering them a place of safety," the Open Letter says.

In Lebanon, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, a fifth of the population are now Syrian refugees.

The letter to the Prime Minister points out that action by the UK "would transform the lives of each person resettled and help countries like Lebanon and Jordan who are already feeling the strain," adding that it would be "catastrophic if the neighbouring countries closed their borders to the thousands of people who flee the conflict every day."

"People in neighbouring states have shown incredible compassion and opened their homes to hundreds of thousands of people but we all have a shared responsibility," says the Open Letter.

"How can we call on Syria's neighbours to keep their borders open to refugees if we keep our own under lock and key?" it asks poignantly.

* Jesuit Refugee Service UK: http://www.jrsuk.net

* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/

[Ekk/3]

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