I care deeply about the treatment of refugees, and have made refugee rights one of my top priorities so far in my work as MP. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees I have been working closely with my colleagues across all parties in Parliament and with charities such as the Refugee Council to raise awareness of the issues facing refugees and to hold the Government to account.
Refugees who are seeking help are people who have endured suffering and fear to a degree which is unimaginable to most of us. They have faced impossible choices and taken huge risks. Too many have died already, including young children. It is right that Britain, one of the richest countries in the world, should show solidarity and compassion for our fellow human beings.
The Government were slow to act on this crisis and reluctant to fulfil their international responsibilities. Before summer the number of refugees Britain had resettled was tiny compared to many other nations, despite the legacy of British colonialism contributing so significantly to the problems that exist today.
After a public outcry the Prime Minister finally announced that an additional 20,000 places will made available in the UK for Syrian refugees. These refugees will be taken from camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and resettled in the UK over the next five years.
I welcome that the Government changed their position on this, but I do not believe that these plans match up to the scale or immediacy of the crisis. It will be important that Britain’s response to this crisis is kept under constant review, and I also believe that the Government should disclose how many refugees have been resettled in the UK so far.
With winter fast approaching refugees need help now, five years may be too long for many vulnerable refugees who are living in camps. The Prime Minister has stated that the Government want 1,000 refugees resettled in the UK by Christmas, but I believe we could be doing even more still.
Furthermore, I would like to see the Prime Minister reach out to other European leaders and see that we take our fair share of those refugees already in Europe, particularly from the Southern European countries that are bearing the brunt of this crisis.
We also need to consider the welfare of refugees once they have arrived in this country. It is important that the Government continue to work with local authorities and develop a proper integration plan to ensure local communities have the support they need when additional refugees arrive. The Government should urgently reverse a drastic cut in the refugee allowance that was made in August, which threatens to perpetuate people’s suffering rather than alleviating it.
Finally, in the wake of the recent appalling events in Paris it is crucial that prejudice and bigotry are not allowed to hijack this issue. As far as we know all of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks were EU citizens, but predictably groups such as UKIP have used these events as an argument for closing the borders to more refugees. Progressive voices must stand strong in defending our humanitarian duty to those in need.
It has been uplifting to see the concern and compassion of so many people who have contacted me and I will be vigorously continuing my work on this issue in the coming months and years. I submitted an Early Day Motion on refugees crossing the Mediterranean which you might also be interested to read. I have also asked a number of written questions I have tabled to the Government on these matters.
I am pleased that many constituents have been in touch to ask how they can help here in Bristol. I have written a blog post outlining practical ways you can lend your support.