As recently as 2 September 2015, the UK Prime Minister stated that the refugee crisis would not be solved by Britain taking more refugees yet on 4 September 2015 he performed a sudden u-turn and announced that Britain would accept thousands more Syrian refugees. The Guardian however reported on 4 September 2015 that, ” Downing Street declined to put an exact figure on the number of refugees who will be flown to Britain from refugee camps in countries bordering Syria…Cameron suggested Britain wanted to take refugees from the camps to discourage people from making the “harzadous” journey to the UK. Refugees travel to the UK because they can claim asylum in Britain. The Prime Minister said:”We will continue with our approach of taking those from the refugee camps. This provides them with a direct and safe route to the UK, rather than risking the harzadous journey which has cost so many lives. We will discuss how best to design these schemes and the numbers we will take with NGOS and partners. And we will set out further details next week”.
It seems the UK government’s current sudden position( in order to appease the increasingly mounting criticisms against its expressed reluctance to take in asylum seekers entering Europe) is to deal not with Syrian asylum claimants already within Europe itself but with those who have been ascertained in advance as needing protection.
The announcement of 4 September 2015, however is not the first time that the UK Government has bowed to pressure to accept Syrian refugees. Again following pressure, on 29 January 2014, the Home Secretary announced that the UK Government would establish a programme to offer resettlement in the UK to those they considered “vulnerable” Syrian refugees. The Home Secretary described the “vulnerable person relocation(VPR) scheme” as separate to but “entirely consistent” with the UNHCR’ s existing resettlement programme. Those to be prioritised would involve victims of sexual violence, the elderely, victims of torture and the disabled. Those resettled under the UK’s scheme were to be granted 5years Humanitarian Protection and have access to public funds and the labour market. At that time the UK Government said that it expected several hunded refugees to arrive over the next three years. The first group of resettled refugees arrived in the UK on 25 March 2014. Press reports suggested that this group consisted of 10 to 20 people. As at 24 June 2014, 50 people had been resettled under the scheme-House of Commons Parliamentary Brief of 30 July 2014 titled In Brief: Syrian Refugees and the UK.
A UNHCR FactSheet of 18 August 2015 states that the United Kingdom Government and and Northern Ireland have so far accepted 187 refugees under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
On 4 September 2015, the United Kingdom Government announced that it had taken 216 people under the Syrian Vulnerable Person Scheme. It was also clarified that since 2011, the UK has granted protection to almost 5000 Syrians through normal asylum procedures. Accepting Syrian asylum seekers through normal challenges is clearly just what the UK Government wants to avoid-most of the claimants arrive in Europe and therefore the UK undocumented to claim asylum and as such there is little the UK Government can do to limit the numbers seeking to claim asylum once they have entered the UK.
A press release statement of 4 September 2015 by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterre, on the Refugee Crisis in Europe states, ” The European Union is preparing key emergency meetings to take decisions in its response to the present refugee and migration crisis. The situation requires a massive common effort that is not possible with the current fragmented approach. Europe is facing its biggest refugee influx in decades…..But overall, Europe has failed to find an effective common response, and people have suffered as a result……This is a primarily refugee crisis, not only a migration phenomenon. The vast majority of those arriving in Greece come from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and are simply running for their lives. All people on the move in these tragic circumstances deserve to see their human rights and dignity fully respected, independently of their legal status…….Europe cannot go on responding to this crisis with a piecemeal or incremental approach…..People who are found to have a valid protection claim in this initial screening must then benefit from a mass relocation programme, with the mandatory participation of all EU member states”.
By seeking to soley announce special provisions for Syrians refuges only, could the United Kingdom government be said to be dealing with a crisis affecting Europe in a fragmented way? The resettlement programme they began last year does not appear to have much assisted the problem.
Despite the Government’s undoubtedly welcome policy to bring in more Syrian refugees via a resettlement scheme, it still remains possible for Syrians and refugees of other nationalities to make their way across Europe, into the UK and claim asylum here and as such the UK government will in the long term still have to deal with and engage with the rest of Europe as regards solutions to the current crisis. The UK Government cannot therefore by-pass true engagement with the rest of Europe simply by announcing they will accept refugees of a certain nationality but not for example Eritreans, Afghanis, or Iraqis.