NGOs urge the UK to take a fair and proportionate share of refugees.

Photo: EOPITZ/iStock

UK's refugee response 'clearly inadequate'

4 January 2016

David Cameron should approach the new year with "new resolve to address the appalling plight of refugees in Europe," according to the heads of more than two dozen NGOs in a joint letter to the prime minister.

27 international humanitarian organisations, refugee assistance organisations, and human rights advocacy groups, including Bond and several of its members, have expressed their disappointment with the UK's "clearly inadequate" response to the refugee crisis. They have urged the UK government to do more to alleviate the situation, by providing people fleeing conflict with "safe, well-managed escape routes and refuge".

The letter welcomes the leading role the UK has played in offering international aid to places affected by conflict, especially in the Syria region, but says the UK should establish safe and legal routes for refugees into and across Europe.

Speaking to Third Sector, Sanj Srikanthan, Director of Policy and Practice at the International Rescue Committee, said: "The government needs to wake up to the scale of the challenge we're facing, and recognise that resettling 4,000 refugees a year – only six people per parliamentary constituency – is woefully inadequate.

"We hope this letter prompts the government to resettle a more proportionate number of refugees, reflecting the UK population and our proud history of helping refugees in need."

The letter in full

Dear prime minister,

As a coalition of international humanitarian organisations, refugee assistance organisations, and human rights advocacy groups we ask you to approach this new year with new resolve to address the appalling plight of refugees in Europe.

Last year saw 3,695 people drown and hundreds of thousands more endure a desperate march of misery across the continent. Together, our organisations bear witness to the full arc of this refugee crisis.

We see first-hand the human cost of war, persecution and human rights abuses that force people to abandon their homes in search of refuge. We provide emergency relief to desperate men, women and children who have fled to Europe's shores. We help refugees begin to rebuild their lives here in the United Kingdom.

We welcome the leading role the UK has played in offering international aid to places affected by conflict, especially in the Syria region. We also commend the UK for providing assistance to those helping refugees in Greece and the Balkans, where humanitarian relief is urgently needed.

Tackling the reasons people are forced to flee their homes in places such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea must of course remain a priority. However, in the absence of peace, people will continue to flee. We must provide them with safe, well-managed escape routes and refuge.

Last year’s announcement that the UK will resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years was a welcome first step, but given the numbers of people searching for safety across the globe, this response is clearly inadequate: it is too slow, too low and too narrow. The UK can and should be doing much more to ensure that refugees are not compelled to take life-threatening journeys or forced into smugglers’ hands.

We therefore join leading members of the legal community in endorsing the following four refugee principles and believe that, as a matter of urgency:

  • The UK should take a fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within the European Union and those still outside it.
  • Safe and legal routes to the UK, as well as to the European Union, need to be established.
  • Safe and legal routes within the European Union, including the UK, should be established.
  • There should be access to fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought.

The UK, along with other European countries, must take responsibility for responding to the refugee crisis on Europe’s doorstep.

Over 64 years ago, soon after the horrors of the second world war, European governments adopted the refugee convention, an instrument of international law which British lawyers helped to draft. As a nation, we made a promise: that never again would refugees be left out in the cold to fend for themselves; that this country would protect them; that here, they would find safe haven.

We urge you to keep that promise.

Yours sincerely,

Girish Menon, Chief Executive, ActionAid UK

Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK

Wayne Myslik, Chief Executive, Asylum Aid

Ben Jackson, Chief Executive, Bond

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive, British Refugee Council

Chris Bain, Director, Cafod

Loretta Minghella OBE, Chief Executive, Christian Aid

Tiffy Allen, Network Coordinator, City of Sanctuary

Phil McCarthy, Chief Executive, CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network)

Leigh Daynes, Executive Director, Doctors of the World UK

Susan Munroe, Chief Executive, Freedom from Torture

John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace UK

Jane Waterman, Executive Director, International Rescue Committee UK

Imran Madden, Director, Islamic Relief UK

Saira Grant, Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty

Hany El-Banna OBE, Chairman, Muslim Charities Forum

Mark Goldring, Chief Executive, Oxfam GB

Stephen Hale OBE, Chief Executive, Refugee Action

Adrian Marshall, Executive Director, Responding to Conflict

John Wilkes, Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council

Emma Williams, Chief Executive, Student Action for Refugees

Salah Mohamed, Chief Executive, Welsh Refugee Council

Natasha Walter, Director, Women for Refugee Women

Tim Pilkington, Chief Executive, World Vision UK

Adam Leach, Chief Executive, Y Care International

Simon Underwood, Chair, North of England Refugee Service