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Britain must meet its international and moral obligations


Like many people watching the news and reading the papers in the last few weeks, I have been horrified by the plight of families and young children desperately fleeing violence and persecution in Syria and elsewhere.

The images of little Aylan Kurdi and his brother Galib are truly heartbreaking. They are a devastating indictment of Europe's failure to help people who are simply doing what you or I would do in the same situation - protect themselves and their families and do all they can to find a better life.

Our government's response so far has been woefully inadequate. David Cameron's comments last week that we cannot take more refugees and should instead concentrate on bringing 'peace and stability to the Middle East' (if only we'd known it was that simple Mr Cameron) treated the issue like an either/or. This was a completely false choice. Britain can and should be doing more. 

At the time David Cameron spoke, Britain had given safe haven to only around 200 refugees from Syria. This compares utterly shamefully with the number of people given sanctuary elsewhere, and is a dereliction of duty for our nation which has a long and proud tradition of offering sanctuary to people who need it, wherever they are from.

I was pleased on Friday when the Prime Minister announced a change in his approach, and indicated he would be ready to provide asylum to many more thousands of refugees. His announcement today that we will take 'up to 20,000' in the next five years is also welcome, but still compares poorly with, for example, France, who will take 24,000 in just the next two years. 

There is no doubt that the change in Mr Cameron's attitude is a result of the pressure which has been applied to him by the public and the media. In just a few weeks he has gone from - let us not forget - describing migrants as a 'swarm' to talking of our 'moral responsibility' to provide asylum. If we want this government to do the right thing we must keep the pressure on them. They certainly aren't going to do the right thing on their own.

That is why on Friday I wrote to the Prime Minister expressing my disappointment with the government response so far and asking for an urgent parliamentary debate, and this week I have signed a motion in parliament calling on Britain to continue to do more to help these vulnerable and genuine refugees.

We cannot turn our back on people in need. It is a desperately sad thought, but there are many thousands more children along Europe's borders at risk of the same fate as Aylan Kurdi. If we do nothing, we could be condemning each of them to that fate. We are better than that. Britain must fulfill its international duty, and more than that we must fulfill our moral duty - we must offer the compassion, the safety and the security we are capable of giving.



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