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UK to accept thousands more Syrian refugees, Cameron says

Luong Thai Linh, AFP | Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in Hanoi, Vietnam on July 29, 2015

Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday that Britain would take in “thousands more” Syrian refugees and spend millions more in humanitarian aid after an outpouring of emotion over the image of a drowned Syrian toddler put him under pressure to act.

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Cameron gave no precise figures, but a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency told reporters in Geneva that the British move would improve the lives of 4,000 Syrians.

As Europe seems at a loss to cope with thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa seeking safety or better lives on the continent, many at home and abroad had accused Cameron’s government of being uncaring and inflexible.

Several of his own Conservative legislators and the human rights chief of the Council of Europe urged Britain to take in more refugees.

“Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of people, today I can announce that we will do more in providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees,” Cameron told reporters in Lisbon after meeting his Portuguese counterpart.

About 5,000 Syrians who made their own way to Britain since the start of the war in their country have been granted asylum, and another 216 were brought to Britain under a U.N.-backed relocation scheme.

“We will accept thousands more under these existing schemes and we keep them under review,” Cameron said, adding that the government would speak with humanitarian organisations and announce further details next week.

The British Prime Minister also announced the UK will spend a further 100 million pounds (€136.8 million) on humanitarian aid to address the Syrian refugee crisis.

“Today I can announce that we will provide a further 100 million pounds, taking our total contribution to over 1 billion pounds. That is the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis,” Cameron told reporters during a visit to Spain.

“Sixty million pounds of this additional funding will go to help Syrians still in Syria. The rest will go to neighbouring countries, to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where Syrian refugees now account for one quarter of the population.”

Others more welcoming

Other European countries such as Germany and Sweden have taken in far more refugees than Britain in recent times, and London declined to take part in a proposed EU scheme that would allocate quotas to member states.

Germany alone expects 800,000 people to file for asylum this year. About 25,000 people applied for asylum in Britain in the 12 months to March, of whom two-fifths were granted some form of protection.

Cameron’s announcement concerned only Syrians, the focus of popular anguish after the widespread publication of photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned with his brother and mother as the family tried to cross from Turkey to Greece.

“We will continue with our approach of taking them (Syrian refugees) directly from refugee camps. This provides them with a more direct and safe route to the United Kingdom rather than risking the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many of their lives,” Cameron said.

Cameron had previously insisted that Britain was already doing its bit, not least by sending aid to Syrian refugee camps in the Middle East and dispatching the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean to help rescue migrants from unsafe boats.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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