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Religious leaders: Britain must take in more Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees warm themselves around a fire in Ankara, Turkey (CNS)

Religious leaders have called on the British Government to take in more refugees from Syria. Bishop Declan Lang and other senior religious representatives are calling for Prime Minister David Cameron to increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK in response to “one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our time”.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, published in yesterday’s Independent, Bishop Declan Lang, chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs, joined the Anglican Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan, head of the Jewish Reform Movement Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain and co-chair of the Christian Muslim Forum, to express his support for a joint call from Cafod, Amnesty International, the Refugee Council, JCore and Islamic Relief for the UK to do more to help Syria’s refugees find safety in Britain.

“Many refugees have experienced persecution, torture or sexual violence, sometimes because of their religion or ethnicity, or have disabilities or other urgent medical needs which make them particularly vulnerable. Some will not survive the winter,” the letter said.

“We are proud of the way in which the UK has led the world in its humanitarian aid contribution to the Syria crisis. However, our help cannot end with aid. We urge you to show the same leadership on resettlement so that more of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees can find sanctuary here in the UK.”

The religious leaders went on to say that Britain has “a moral responsibility” to help Syrian refugees. The letter added: “As Prime Minister, you have the power to offer hope to people whose suffering is almost unimaginable to us. We ask you to do this today.”

Today marks the first anniversary of the Government’s announcement of a special resettlement scheme for the most vulnerable refugees from the Syrian conflict. A year on, Home Office figures show that only 90 people have been offered asylum here.

Nearly four years into the conflict, 10 million people have been forced to leave their homes, nearly four million of whom have fled the country. The vast majority are living in precarious circumstances in Syria’s neighbouring countries. In their letter, the religious leaders say that these countries are at the point of collapse from the sheer numbers of refugees they are hosting.

“We welcomed the announcement, a year ago, of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme but we are disappointed that only 90 refugees have so far been offered a safe haven here in the UK via this route,” the letter said.

“One year on, we urge you to take this opportunity to commit to offering resettlement places to thousands, not hundreds, of refugees from Syria.”

Cafod and other agencies are calling on rich countries around the world to resettle five per cent of Syria’s refugees by the end of this year and a further five per cent by the end of 2016. The Government has agreed to resettle only several hundred people over three years.

Other countries, including Germany and the USA, have promised to resettle thousands. Excluding Germany, the rest of the European Union has pledged to take in only 0.17 per cent of refugees from the main host countries.

Alan Thomlinson, Cafod’s emergency manager for the Syria Crisis, said: “The number of Syrian refugees accepted into Britain so far is woefully inadequate compared to the scale of the need. Britain has a proud tradition of helping those in need, and – with no end in sight to the war – we need to show solidarity with the countries and communities that are bearing the brunt of this appalling crisis.”

Full text of the religious leaders’ letter:

Dear Prime Minister,

As faith leaders in the UK we write to you today to urge you to increase the number of resettlement places available to Syrian refugees, in response to one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of our time.
At least 3.2 million people, Muslims, Christians and minorities, have now fled Syria. The vast majority remain in the region in neighbouring countries which are at the point of collapse from the sheer numbers they are hosting. Many have experienced persecution, torture or sexual violence, sometimes because of their religion or ethnicity, or have disabilities or other urgent medical needs which make them particularly vulnerable. Some will not survive the winter.

We are proud of the way in which the UK has led the world in its humanitarian aid contribution to the Syria crisis. However, our help cannot end with aid. We urge you to show the same leadership on resettlement so that more of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees can find sanctuary here in the UK.

We welcomed the announcement, a year ago, of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme but we are disappointed that only 90 refugees have so far been offered a safe haven here in the UK via this route. One year on, we urge you to take this opportunity to commit to offering resettlement places to thousands, not hundreds, of refugees from Syria.

In the face of a desperate and growing need, we believe that Great Britain has a moral responsibility to continue our noble tradition as a compassionate and welcoming safe haven for those in need of protection.

As Prime Minister, you have the power to offer hope to people whose suffering is almost unimaginable to us. We ask you to do this today.

Yours sincerely,
The Most Reverend Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Head of Jewish Reform Movement
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Assistant Secretary General, The Muslim Council of Britain and Co-Chair, Christian Muslim Forum
The Right Reverend Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs