Cross-party pressure mounts on David Cameron to take in more refugees


David Cameron is under mounting pressure from MPs across the political spectrum to allow more refugees into Britain after shocking pictures of a drowned Syrian boy triggered a backlash across Europe.

The Prime Minister has insisted that taking in more people will not solve the crisis wracking the continent, and the focus should be on bringing "peace and stability" to the war-ravaged areas they are fleeing.

But a number of Conservatives have added their voices to those demanding a shift in policy, with Mr Cameron being warned that he faces a "test of humanity" and must honour the British tradition of offering sanctuary to those in need.

Just 216 vulnerable refugees have been admitted under a Government scheme over the past year, and around 5,000 Syrians had been granted asylum in the last four years. 

By contrast Germany has accepted 35,000 vulnerable Syrians through a UN programme, Canada more than 10,000, Australia 5,600 and Switzerland 3,500.

Senior Labour figures have indicated they could call an emergency debate on the issue when Parliament returns from its summer break next week, raising the prospect of a damaging Tory rebellion. German politicians have also hinted that Mr Cameron's bid to renegotiate Britain's EU membership terms could suffer unless he agrees to share more of the migrant burden.

A Government spokesman said the images from a Turkish beach of the three-year-old child - thought to have died alongside his elder brother and mother when a boat capsized en route to Greece - were "clearly shocking". But the spokesman added that the UK was at the forefront of international efforts to help refugees in the region and was a major aid donor.

Tory Nadhim Zahawi, who sits on the Downing Street policy board, said the picture was a source of "shame".

The Stratford-on-Avon MP, an Iraqi immigrant who came to the UK with his family aged nine after fleeing Saddam Hussein's regime, wrote on Twitter: "We are nothing without compassion. Pic should make us all ashamed. We have failed in Syria. I am sorry little angel, RIP."

Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling, said: "I've spoken to many in west Kent who want us to do more and I agree with them. Our common humanity demands action at home and abroad."

David Burrowes, MP for Enfield Southgate, told the Press Association: "The Prime Minister is right that the only solution is not the individual number of refugees, but that certainly is the answer to those who are seeking refuge in a desperate situation (in Europe).

"We should be doing more to provide a voluntary solution for Syrian refugees.

"We are in the hundreds - I said then it is too little, too late and we are still in that situation where other countries are accepting thousands."

Conservative former foreign office minister Baroness Warsi echoed Mr Burrowes's call for Britain to take in more vulnerable refugees, stressing that the country has expertise in helping victims of sexual violence and children fleeing war zones, for example those escaping the Nazis through the Kindertransport in the Second World War.

Lady Warsi told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have to be prepared to share the burden.

"This is not about having an open door policy, this is about having quite a specific responsive policy in the areas for example that we have expertise.

"Unaccompanied minors, women fleeing from sexual violence, for example territories held by Isis."

Tory MP Nicola Blackwood posted on Twitter: "Britain has a proud history of giving sanctuary to those fleeing conflict & protecting the persecuted.

"We cannot be the generation that fails this test of humanity. We must do all we can."

Fellow Conservative Chris Heaton Harris said the UK had "always helped refugees fleeing war zones and we should now", while another backbencher, Jeremy Lefroy, said: "We must do more to help provide sanctuary in the UK to those fleeing this present terror in Syria."

But Ukip leader Nigel Farage warned that "virtually anyone that sets foot on the soil of an EU state can now be classified as an asylum seeker".

"Many that come are from Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, the Gambia or Senegal. They are not all from Syria," he said. "Just coming from one of those countries does not make you a genuine asylum seeker.

"It makes you a person seeking a better life and it is hard to argue against that. But hundreds of thousands have entered the EU this year. Who's to say it won't be millions next year?

"We must first sort out the mess that allowed 640,000 into the UK in latest annual figures, let alone those illegally stowed away on lorries."