Dear Prime Minister
I am writing to you in response to your statement on the escalating refugee crisis in Europe, and in particular that you do not believe it would be right for Britain to take more refugees.
I am urging you to urgently change your position on this and to show some moral leadership instead. Across the country people will be appalled at your failure to act in the face of such a humanitarian crisis. We have a moral duty to help.
You will have seen the deeply distressing images of children drowned, families with nowhere to go, and heard the desperate stories of people suffocated to death in smugglers lorries. You will know that Greece, Italy and Hungary are struggling to cope with the thousands and thousands of refugees who have no home to return to. And you will know too that Germany and Sweden have stepped up to help offering sanctuary – and that Germany has taken more Syrian refugees in a month than Britain has in a year.
This is the greatest humanitarian crisis to reach our continent since the second world war. You and I are both proud of Britain’s role in generations past offering sanctuary to those fleeing conflict and persecution from the Huguenots to the Kindertransport where we welcomed 10,000 Jewish children fleeing Nazi oppression.
Do not be the British Prime Minister who turns his back on the refugee crisis of our generation or who failed to do the right thing in the face of crisis and desperation. Do not be the British Prime Minister who turns our country into a darker, narrower, more inward looking place. You must act now and not close your eyes to the tragedy on our doorstep.
Refugees from a new totalitarianism in Syria and elsewhere are seeking sanctuary in European democracies. Other European countries are appealing to us to help. Do not lead the Government that fails to offer sanctuary while our neighbours are brave enough to respond.
You and I agree that the long term solution is peace and stability in the region, but you know there is no quick military or foreign policy fix that can return so many people safely to their homes. We agree too that help should be provided in the region and I have paid tribute to the British Government’s continued aid for the refugee camps. And we both want much tougher action against people trafficking, and more support for assessment centres in the region.
But now that the crisis has escalated, there is no alternative but for European countries to also each do more to offer sanctuary too. Since I asked yesterday for cities and counties, Scotland and Wales all to do their bit, there has been a strong and positive response from across the country. You will have seen that both the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government have said they want us to take more refugees. Many local councils are looking now at what they could do to help. So too are community organisations. I have been struck by how many people agree strongly that immigration and asylum should be separated and that whatever their views on immigration, they want Britain to do our bit to help refugees.
I am therefore asking you to do six things:
To agree now that Britain will take more refugees both directly from Syria and from the Southern European countries where most refugees have arrived
To invite councils to come forward with suggestions of how many refugees they can help and to ask the home office to call a conference of councils, community organisations and faith groups on the support Britain could give
To urge all councils to help – as you know currently some councils do far more than others to support refugees and asylum seekers – and as a starting point to ask cities, counties and London boroughs to consider taking at least 10 refugee families
To work with European countries on the asylum assessment process – perhaps involving the UN – Britain would need in order to take refugees
To change the Home office support arrangements for refugees so that there is more stable and longer term funding as many councils have been deterred from helping by the current short term arrangements
To immediately remove refugees from your net migration target, as when there is such a huge crisis it is deeply immoral to include refugees in a reduction target
Refusing to give sanctuary in the face of this crisis is deeply wrong. I am therefore calling on you to change your decision, show leadership and be a true heir to the generosity of spirit of the British people and our proud tradition of offering help and support to those fleeing war or persecution. I believe that all parties will want to strongly support you if you do.
It is my intention to raise this in parliament at the earliest opportunity and call on all members and parties in the House of Commons to support British action to help refugees. You are very mistaken if you think that people across Britain do not want us to do more to meet our moral responsibilities. We have to act and act quickly. I look forward to your urgent response and given the importance of this issue I am releasing this letter to the media.
Yvette Cooper MP
Shadow Home Secretary