Is it enough? People will have different views on today’s announcement by David Cameron that Britain will take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years. My view is that it is a good start. This maximum may well need to be reviewed upwards when we get more details of responses from other EU countries. Some are taking more refugees faster. Others seemingly reticent to recognise their role in this humanitarian crisis.
Cameron’s proposal is for 4,000 refugees a year. My reading of the numbers and understanding of the crisis, and I am far from an expert, is that we will need to take more than 4,000 in the first year to ease the inevitable problems as the coming winter closes in. That will mean a step change in the central and local government bureaucracy we have for taking in refugees, finding them homes and support, and assessing their asylum applications.
Here in Shropshire, the issue will be discussed at an informal (aka private) meeting of the council’s cabinet on Wednesday. Council leader Keith Barrow has issued a statement. It is quite brief so I quote it here in full.
Shropshire Council has yet to formally make decisions concerning refugees, yet the overwhelming response is that we should play our part to help whoever we can. Our hearts reach out to those affected by war and other atrocities. Shropshire communities are already looking to help, generously offering temporary accommodation and other support, including within their own homes.
We will continue to work and collaborate with our communities and other local authorities in order to secure the best solutions and outcomes for refugees. David Simmonds has already spoken on behalf of the Local Government Association to say that Government should assist and fund refugees and we support this position.
The Cabinet of Shropshire Council will discuss this important issue when they meet informally on Wednesday this week (9 September). We will also discuss at our next full Council Meeting held on 24 September. In the meantime we will put plans in place to take and support refugees in readiness for our Government to appropriately respond, fund and co-ordinate on behalf of the United Kingdom.
I am pleased with this first step.
Shropshire is not a county used to taking in refugees. Again, I am not an expert, but I doubt that we have taken in any significant number of refugees since the second world war. We have the compassion and the volunteers to take in refugees but do we have the organisation? That’s why I hope the cabinet will announce some form of action group to ensure that we can take our fair share of refugees.
On Cameron’s 20,000 figure, Shropshire might not be taking in more than ten families. This will hardly strain our resources, either as a council or as a community.
Is 20,000 refugees over five years enough? I doubt it.
The second war in Iraq was intended to be a short-lived affair to take out an imminent threat. The near destruction of Afghanistan in the name of peace was meant to eliminate terrorism. Our intervention in Libya would, we were told, help stabilise the country. Not one of these actions has created a more settled world where people don’t have to flee in the face of persecution and destruction. If we go to war in Syria, will that solve anything?
It is not just Syrian refugees that are suffering and dying. People are fleeing the war torn countries of north Africa.
I don’t have an answer to the world’s problems. I don’t see how we can stem the tide of this humanitarian crisis on the borders of Europe anytime soon. But I do know we can help.
Here in Shropshire, we live in great safety. That is why we should act with compassion and declare #RefugeesWelcome.
And that’s what people in Shropshire are doing. So many people are making offers of support including taking in refugees on a temporary basis. There are a growing number of collection points for aid for refugees around the county.
We shouldn’t wait for central government to allocate us a set number of refugees. We should be generous. We should open our doors and use our council and community resources to help as many desperate people as we can.
There has been a step change in reaction by local and national government over the last few days. We may have to step this reaction up a gear again. We should be ready for that.