The UK has committed more to the Syrian emergency that to any other humanitarian crisis ever, and we are the world’s second largest donor. Spent in the region, our money goes much further and helps many more people than it can in Europe. Given the needs of millions, I do not believe that the solution can be resettlement for just thousands.
Never the less, in addition to existing asylum arrangements, the Government is committed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK. Of the 1000 refugees already re-settled under this new scheme in the run up to Christmas, half were children, and this proportion is likely to be maintained. With respect to unaccompanied children however, the advice of the United Nations agencies is that they are better off remaining in the region where they have a chance of being reunited with their extended families. In cases where the UN clearly believes this is not the case and that remaining within the region puts them in greater danger, we have said that we will welcome them. We have not put a number on it, but I would anticipate something in the low hundreds.
The controversial argument continues with respect to what to do about unaccompanied children who have already made it to the European mainland. There is an argument that, having reached the safety of Europe, we have to give priority to others remaining in the region who are more vulnerable. Clearly however, as we can plainly see on our TV screens, they are sometimes in conditions in some parts of Europe that we would never tolerate in the UK. Accordingly, we have allocated £10 million to alleviate those conditions.
Fundamentally, the problem is that, if we agree to resettle refugees who are already in Europe, we send a powerful signal to others to pay the traffickers and attempt an all too often fatal crossing. It was for this reason, to break the business model of the traffickers, that we decided to take refugees for resettlement direct from the region and not from Europe. The same applies to unaccompanied children: giving them priority will encourage more parents to send their children ahead, and alone.
The problem is heart-breaking, we have to address it, but in doing so we must ensure that we are not making it worse.