UK comes under fire from rights group for stance on Syrian refugees

Human Rights Watch says the UK could do more to help the Syrian refugee crisis and supports the call by 84 bishops to take more people

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison
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The UK is still not doing enough to help support the thousands of Syrians fleeing the war torn country, says Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Europe and central Asia, Ben Ward.

His comments come just days after a letter signed by 84 Church of England bishops was sent to Prime Minister David Cameron, calling on him to increase the number of refugees the country is prepared to take in by 2020.

syrian refugees uk
syrian refugees uk

The bishops wrote: “We believe such is this country’s great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit that we could feasibly resettle at least 10,000 people a year for the next two years, rising to a minimum of 50,000 in total over the five year period you foresaw in your announcement.

“Such a number would bring us into line with comparable commitments made by other countries. It would be a meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily.”

However, the Archbishop of Aleppo recently criticized the 84 bishops for the letter, saying that Europe needed to stop encouraging Syrians out of their country.

In an interview with Britain’s BBC Radio 4, Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart said: “What I would ask everybody to do is to try our best to stop feeding and encouraging radicalism and fundamentalism, and find a political solution where compromise may be done.”

He said he understood why people were fleeing Syria, fearing for their lives, but he said: “As long as the radicalism and killing continue, of course they are afraid. Perhaps if the West tried to find a way, people who want to could live together in our country. I ask them to push towards a political solution so we may have peace and safety.

“I do not contest the right or Christian duty to call for a charitable act, but it is not just a question of accommodating people.”

The Bishops’ call is supported by Human Rights Watch, Ben Ward told Al Arabiya News. He added that while the group welcomed the government’s efforts to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, it was a fraction of the number it could actually manage.

“The UK hasn’t participated in the EU relocation scheme. It opts out of the common EU response to the crisis,” said Ward.

Lead by example

He said that all EU governments could do more in dealing with the refugee crisis.

But he added: “The UK is not even pulling its weight in relation to the efforts that are under way.”

“I think it is undoubtedly the case that the UK could be doing a lot more, and it’s not nearly enough for the British government to say that they are supporting refugees from Syria in neighboring countries, which they are doing, but it is not sufficient.

“We certainly think that the UK can be a lot more generous in terms of its resettlement places, and also in its participation in its collective EU effort to deal with the refugee crisis.”

He said the UK “definitely had the capacity to do more”, especially when Germany was planning to welcome around one million asylum seekers by the end of the year.

He added: “It’s a different order of magnitude.”

Ward also criticized Britain’s insistence to “stand apart from the common efforts that are under way to deal with the 700,000 or so people that have arrived in Europe this year,” a move he said was “damaging to the efforts to persuade some of the newer EU countries to join in and join up.”

Meanwhile the British government is expected to vote on taking military action in Syria – mostly against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

Prime Minister David Cameron was expected to call the vote once the Labour leadership election was complete, but over a month later there is still no indication of when it will take place.

Speaking on Sunday to Al Arabiya News, a Downing Street spokesman refused to comment on when this vote would happen, nor would he be drawn on responding to the letter from the Church of England bishops.

Instead he issued a statement which read: “We have announced that the UK will resettle an additional 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament.

“It is absolutely right that Britain should fulfil its moral responsibility to help the refugees, just as we have done so proudly throughout our history. But in doing so, we must use our head and our heart by pursuing a comprehensive approach that tackles the causes of the problem as well as the consequences.

“The UK is the second largest donor in the world after America, helping refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Our total contribution to the Syrian crisis is more than £1.12bn.”

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