Will the UK welcome Syrian refugees?

refugees

Alors que le conflit actuel en Syrie a fait déjà plus de 100 000 morts, que la conférence de Genève II semble ne pas avoir avancé grand chose dans la résolution du conflit syrien, le nombre de réfugiés et demandeurs d’asiles syriens ne cesse d’augmenter et a dépassé récemment la barre des 2 millions. Le gouvernement libanais, qui a maintenu ses frontières ouvertes aux réfugiés syriens et leur a offert des services d’éducation et de santé, est en train de saturer et sollicite l’aide internationale. Le Royaume-Uni a annoncé récemment qu’il était prêt à accueillir un nombre limité de réfugiés « les plus vulnérables »…

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The British government is working on a plan that would allow Syrian refugees to come to the UK, declared Foreign Secretary William Hague in an interview on the BBC. The government has been rejecting such a plan for months, as David Cameron is under pressure from Tory MPs to limit immigration as much as possible. But the idea gained momentum and was discussend during PMQs on Wednesday the 22d , when Cameron finally revealed that a limited number of “particularly vulnerable people” would be able to find asylum in Britain. Mr Hague said Britain’s “main effort” in the Syrian conflict would continue to be helping people inside the country.

But why such a reversal? Maybe because of the cross-party blame the PM had to face,  especially from the Labour party, which reproached him  with not being committed enough to helping the Syrians. Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, declared “I think it is a good thing that the government has completely reversed its position – just seven days ago they were refusing to do anything at all to help with providing sanctuary in this way. But it is slightly surprising that they are still refusing to sign up to the UN programme and to do this alongside other countries.” She invited the British government to line up with other Western states. Indeed, while the UK is the second biggest donor of humanitarian aid to Syria, it has not yet joined the initiative led by the UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) which calls European countries to accept 30,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in the region.

What is surprising is the reaction of the UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. Indeed, whereas he has led the opposition against allowing open immigration from the East (with the recent entry of Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen area). In this case he was among the first to say that the UK has to provide a safe haven to Syrian refugees. To justify this paradox, Farage argues that refugees come to save their lives and not to move for economic benefits as migrants. But while he didn’t give a figure, the Labour Party wants to accept 400 to 500 refugees in the estimated nine million Syrians.

But the main issue will be to understand who the government calls “vulnerable people”. Is it a particular religious group, Christians, for example? Or does it consider all the Syrians who fear for their life? On this point, Hague answered: “This is still being worked on” because as he said, a serious danger of radicalization exists among people returning to the UK from Syria.

Matthieu BELLEAU & Philippe-Amaury GUSSE

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