The UK has accepted around 3,400 Syrian refugees in the past two years; not a huge number, but considerably more than the 216 figure quoted by some journalists. In the past few days, Germany has received the fervent praise of the mainstream press, after thousands of refugees were welcomed into cities such as Munich. Angela Merkel has said that any Syrian refugee who reaches Germany will, most likely, be granted asylum. This is expected to cost the nation approximately $6.6 billion.
Yet, Germany’s noble stance is not as unequivocal as one may initially suppose. Indeed, Merkel has not said that the German authorities will provide a safe passage to their country. Everyone who seeks asylum in Germany will have to find their own way there. They will have to navigate the Mediterranean by themselves or, more realistically (and worryingly), with the help of human traffickers. The refugees who have already made the journey to Europe should, of course, be granted asylum and should be treated with the respect they deserve as human beings. But, to encourage others to make a death-defying trip is not to show compassion to Syrians.
The UK has adopted a different approach to the crisis, one that has been criticised repeatedly – including in the House of Commons this afternoon. One element of this criticism is justified. Before last Friday, David Cameron had only promised to accept 500 Syrian refugees – a tiny proportion of the millions fleeing the conflict. This initial decision from the PM was categorically wrong. Yet Cameron’s general approach, for now, is the right one. Indeed, he has just announced a further £100 million funding for refugee camps in Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where millions of refugees are now living. In total, the UK has given over £1 billion to this cause, more than the rest of the EU combined. The majority of those fleeing war in the region end up in refugee camps, and we need provide support to ensure that these areas of sanctuary are well-equipped.
Cameron has also adopted a sound policy by pledging that the 20,000 incoming refugees (the number of individuals the PM has agreed to accept over the next five years) will come from Syria, not Europe. If we take refugees from Syria and provide aid to those who are living in camps around Syria then the risk to those in need is far less.
Unfortunately, Cameron only reluctantly agreed to accept thousands of Syrian refugees after a public outcry. The sincerity of the PM’s humanitarian urge is ambiguous. If he was truly determined to make a difference, then Britain could be leading the way in terms of short- and long-term solutions. As it stands, Britain is merely focusing – albeit shrewdly – on one aspect of the crisis, by providing refuge and support to those who have yet to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Once the popular clamour recedes, it is difficult to imagine that Cameron will continue to pursue additional measures to alleviate this current crisis.