First group of Syrian refugees arrives in UK

David Cameron
David Cameron
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THE first Syrian refugees to take part in the Government’s expanded resettlement programme have arrived in Britain, the Home Office confirmed.

THE Europe-wide scheme is designed to ease the burden on Italy, Greece and Hungary, which are seeing thousands of migrants arrive on a daily basis, and was approved by a majority of the 28 EU interior ministers.

Britain is not required to take part in the scheme as it is not part of the Schengen “borderless” area and Home Secretary Theresa May reaffirmed her opposition to it ahead of the Brussels summit.

Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic voted against the relocation scheme, while Finland abstained, and its approval following a vote rather than the agreement of all countries has proved controversial.

Mr Cameron is expected to discuss the scheme with French president Francois Hollande when the pair meet at Chequers tonight ahead of an EU leaders’ summit on the refugee crisis tomorrow.

The Prime Minister is also hoping to raise his proposed renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership with Mr Hollande but his attempts to win support have not been helped by his refusal to sign up to the Franco-German refugee resettlement plan.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond insisted Britain’s refusal to participate in the resettlement scheme does not mean it is not helping in the refugee crisis.

He tweeted: “UK’s JHA opt-out not opt-out from addressing #migration; UK largest EU donor to Syria crisis”.

Mr Cameron is expected to use tomorrow’s summit to urge EU leaders to do more in the region, including tackling people-smuggling gangs.

In a statement, the European Commission acknowledged the need to tackle the “route causes” of the crisis.

It said: “The root causes of the refugee crisis must be addressed. That is why tomorrow heads of state and government will discuss the immediate priority actions which are necessary to address the instability in our vicinity, and the refugee pressures on neighbouring countries.”

Conservative spokesman for home affairs in the European Parliament Timothy Kirkhope said forcing the issue through with a vote rather than unanimous approval will alienate some major EU countries.

He said: “This is not a long-term solution to this crisis; it is a sticking plaster, and the way it has been handled diminishes much of the good will that will be needed to find genuine long term and more permanent solutions.

“We hear a lot about ‘solidarity’ in the EU. Enforcing a plan on a country that is strongly opposed to it is not solidarity, it is compulsion.”

International charity ActionAid said it was worried that countries that voted against the scheme will have to hold refugees while the new scheme is implemented.

Its head of humanitarian aid and emergencies, Mike Noyes, said: “Agreement across wider Europe has been needed for a long time, and this is a step forwards. The biggest worry is that those countries who voted against include those who have to hold refugees whilst the new plan is implemented.”

But the Refugee Council called on Britain to take part in the EU scheme.

Its chief executive, Maurice Wren, said: “It’s extremely disappointing that Britain has so far chosen to side step its responsibility to help protect some of the refugees arriving in Europe.

“The Prime Minister must demonstrate real leadership by putting aside domestic political concerns and proving he will not turn his back while refugees are met by closed borders, barbed wire fences and tear gas. He must respond compassionately and collaboratively to ensure that refugees arriving in Europe are provided with the protection they so desperately need.”

The Europe-wide scheme is designed to ease the burden on Italy, Greece and Hungary, which are seeing thousands of migrants arrive on a daily basis, and was approved by a majority of the 28 EU interior ministers.

Britain is not required to take part in the scheme as it is not part of the Schengen “borderless” area and Home Secretary Theresa May reaffirmed her opposition to it ahead of the Brussels summit.

Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic voted against the relocation scheme, while Finland abstained, and its approval following a vote rather than the agreement of all countries has proved controversial.

Mr Cameron is expected to discuss the scheme with French president Francois Hollande when the pair meet at Chequers tonight ahead of an EU leaders’ summit on the refugee crisis tomorrow.

The Prime Minister is also hoping to raise his proposed renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership with Mr Hollande but his attempts to win support have not been helped by his refusal to sign up to the Franco-German refugee resettlement plan.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond insisted Britain’s refusal to participate in the resettlement scheme does not mean it is not helping in the refugee crisis.

He tweeted: “UK’s JHA opt-out not opt-out from addressing #migration; UK largest EU donor to Syria crisis”.

Mr Cameron is expected to use tomorrow’s summit to urge EU leaders to do more in the region, including tackling people-smuggling gangs.

In a statement, the European Commission acknowledged the need to tackle the “route causes” of the crisis.

It said: “The root causes of the refugee crisis must be addressed. That is why tomorrow heads of state and government will discuss the immediate priority actions which are necessary to address the instability in our vicinity, and the refugee pressures on neighbouring countries.”

Conservative spokesman for home affairs in the European Parliament Timothy Kirkhope said forcing the issue through with a vote rather than unanimous approval will alienate some major EU countries.

He said: “This is not a long-term solution to this crisis; it is a sticking plaster, and the way it has been handled diminishes much of the good will that will be needed to find genuine long term and more permanent solutions.

“We hear a lot about ‘solidarity’ in the EU. Enforcing a plan on a country that is strongly opposed to it is not solidarity, it is compulsion.”

International charity ActionAid said it was worried that countries that voted against the scheme will have to hold refugees while the new scheme is implemented.

Its head of humanitarian aid and emergencies, Mike Noyes, said: “Agreement across wider Europe has been needed for a long time, and this is a step forwards. The biggest worry is that those countries who voted against include those who have to hold refugees whilst the new plan is implemented.”

But the Refugee Council called on Britain to take part in the EU scheme.

Its chief executive, Maurice Wren, said: “It’s extremely disappointing that Britain has so far chosen to side step its responsibility to help protect some of the refugees arriving in Europe.

“The Prime Minister must demonstrate real leadership by putting aside domestic political concerns and proving he will not turn his back while refugees are met by closed borders, barbed wire fences and tear gas. He must respond compassionately and collaboratively to ensure that refugees arriving in Europe are provided with the protection they so desperately need.”

It is understood that the Syrian refugees who have arrived in Britain today will already have support in place and will be taken to their new homes and pointed towards relevant help, such as medical facilities, in the area.

They have been granted five year humanitarian visas and are free to work, claim benefits and use the NHS as required.

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association (LGA) called for more clarity over the expanded resettlement scheme and a full commitment from ministers that councils will receive the funding they need to support the refugees.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Asylum, Migration and Refugee task group, said: “Councils across the country are coming forward with offers to help Syrian refugees and we are pressing government on exactly how the scheme will operate. We need to know who is arriving and when in order to ensure that we have the right homes, school places, and other support that may be required.

“There are a number of issues that need to be urgently resolved, in particular the need for a firm commitment that councils resettling refugees will receive full financial support, in order that it is not seen later as an unfair burden on communities that open their doors.”