The first of the 20,000 Syrians that Britain has promised to take from camps in the Middle East will arrive in the next few days, with many more to follow soon, the Home Secretary has announced. A minister responsible solely to oversee the settlement of the immigrants has also been appointed.
Last week the Prime Minister announced that Britain will resettle 20,000 Syrians from camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan over the next five years. In a statement delivered to the House of Commons yesterday, Theresa May announced that “plans to welcome those refugees are progressing at pace.
“I am pleased to tell the House that we are looking forward to welcoming the first wave of new arrivals in the coming days, and we are working at speed to plan for even more in the coming weeks,” she continued.
Richard Harrington, the Conservative MP for Watford has been appointed as minister responsible for co-ordaining the resettlement plan, working with NGOs and charities to “harness the strong desire expressed by the public, and a range of organisations, to welcome these refugees to the UK.”
A dedicated “Gold Command Team” has also been established within the Home Office to bring together various government departments with the UNHCR, the Local Government Association and various NGOs.
Ms May said the UK “can be proud that since the start of that conflict we have been at the forefront of the humanitarian response,” and she highlighted the “more than £1 billion in aid” which Britain has donated, “making us the second biggest bilateral donor in the world. Our contribution is almost as much as the rest of the EU put together.”
In her statement, May stated that more than 5,000 Syrian asylum seekers have already come to Britain since the civil war began to displace large numbers of people in 2011. Government figures show that Syrians had been applying for asylum in the UK for many years before that – in 2002, the earliest year for which figures are shown, 83 Syrians applied for asylum, the vast majority of whom did so from within the country rather than at ports or airports.
It is impossible to say how many Syrians never applied at all but simply stayed in the UK illegally, as no-one knows how many illegal immigrants there are. The Greater London Authority attempted to make an estimate in 2007 and came up with a range of between 417,000 and 863,000.
Ms May opposed calls for Britain to take a share of the 120,000 migrants that the EU wants to see relocated, however, insisting that the EU should instead follow Britain’s lead to resettle the most vulnerable people directly from the region in order to deter people from making their own way across the Mediterranean and into Europe.