Plea to Prime Minister on Syrian refugee resettlement

By staff writers
27 Jan 2014

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, bishops, crossbenchers and peers from all parties are among those who have written an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, urging a positive UK government response to the call for re-settlement of some Syrian refugees in Britain and other European countries.

The letter, published in the Independent newspaper late last week, is a response to a plea from the United nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"Only a resettlement programme will offer a durable solution for the most vulnerable who will struggle to survive in the harsh conditions in the region," the peers acknowledge.

In full, the letter reads as follows:

"We are deeply concerned about the growing Syrian refugee crisis which you have accurately described as ‘the greatest refugee crisis of our time’. As you will know, more than two million people have fled the country, including over one million children, the majority of whom are now living in extremely precarious circumstances. Figures suggest that only around 0.1 per cent of the people fleeing the conflict have found safety in the UK while 97 per cent, are being hosted by the neighbouring countries.

"We write to you today to urge you to heed UNHCR’s call to help the countries bordering Syria by establishing a co-ordinated resettlement programme in the UK with a focus on the more vulnerable refugees, including women at risk, those with disabilities, vulnerable older adults and families with children.

"We commend you for pledging £600 million in humanitarian aid to assist people in Syria and the region. However, we are extremely concerned to hear reports of domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape from the camps on the border, and with the arrival of winter and freezing temperatures, these are plainly unacceptable environments for many at risk.

"Only a resettlement programme will offer a durable solution for the most vulnerable who will struggle to survive in the harsh conditions in the region.

"You are well aware of the scale of the crisis which shows no signs of abating. UNHCR has predicted that next year the total Syrian refugee population will increase to over 4 million. Unsurprisingly, given the numbers crossing their borders, Syria’s neighbours are buckling under the strain. We are extremely alarmed to hear that scores of people trying to escape the fighting, including families with small children, are being denied admission by neighbouring countries. According to an April 2013 survey, 71 per cent of Jordanians want the border with Syria to be closed to new arrivals. With thousands of people fleeing Syria everyday, this would be catastrophic.

"There is a moral imperative on western countries to show solidarity with Syria’s neighbours by sharing the responsibility of protecting some of the people fleeing Syria.

"UNHCR has called for western countries to take 30,000 people through resettlement or humanitarian admission with a focus on the vulnerable, a modest target given the scale of the crisis. So far 18 countries, including Germany, France and the USA, have responded to this call. Despite our proud tradition of protecting refugees, the UK has yet to respond.

"We urge you to work with the UNHCR and the international community in the establishment of a global resettlement programme to help the most vulnerable find safety outside of the region. We must play our part in providing a safe haven to Syria’s refugees.

"We would be grateful for your thoughts on this issue and would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss it in more detail."

The letter has been signed by:

Rt Hon the Baroness Williams of Crosby
Rt Hon. the Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham
Lord Avebury
Baroness Berridge
Rt Hon. the Baroness Boothroyd OM
Lord Brennan QC
Viscount Brookeborough DL
Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Carlisle
Lord Chidgey
Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Coventry
Baroness Cox
Lord Desai
Lord Dholakia
Lord Dubs
Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Gloucester
Baroness Goudie
Lord Greaves
Baroness Hamwee
Lord Hannay of Chiswick GCMG
Baroness Howarth of Breckland
Baroness Hooper CMG
Lord Hylton
Lord Judd
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC
Rt Hon Lord Kilclooney of Armagh
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead
Lord Lester of Herne Hill
Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Lichfield
Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBE
Rt Rev and the Rt Hon the Lord Bishop of London
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
Baroness Meacher
Baroness Morgan of Huyton
Lord Parekh
Lord Roberts of Llandudno
Rt Hon. the Lord Roper
Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of St Albans
Earl of Sandwich
Rt Hon the Baroness Smith of Basildon
Lord Snape
Baroness Stern CBE
Baroness Suttie
Lord Taverne
Baroness Tonge
Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Truro
Baroness Uddin
Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Wakefield
Rt Hon the Lord Warner
Baroness Whitaker
Rt Hon the Lord Whitty
Rt Hon the Lord Wigley
Rt Rev and the Rt Hon the Lord Williams of Oystermouth
Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Worcester
Lord Wright of Richmond GCMG

[Ekk/3]

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