We must do more: Sturgeon attacks Cameron after he refuses to join EU sanctuary plan

We must do more: Sturgeon attacks Cameron after he refuses to join EU sanctuary plan
Kathleen Nutt, The National

Nicola Sturgeon last night condemned David Cameron’s refusal to join an EU initiative designed to give sanctuary to desperate refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, written after an emotional session in Holyrood which discussed the crisis, the First Minister urged him to recognise the need for “long-term coordinated action”.

Renewing an earlier bid to persuade him to join the European relocation scheme, which he refused to do in June, she said “Scotland stands ready” to “support the UK Government in providing an appropriate response”.

Her letter followed reports that Cameron is expected to respond to growing international and domestic demands that Britain take more people fleeing the war by announcing the UK will take in thousands more refugees.

However, reports suggested the UK Government would just be expanding a Syrian Vulnerable Person scheme, which has seen Britain take in just 216 refugees.

Cameron is not expected to allow tens of thousands of refugees to come to the UK and the expanded scheme is expected only to be open to those from the UNHCR camps on the border of Syria and not refugees who have arrived in Europe. The developments follow a huge demand for action after photographs emerged on Wednesday showing the body of drowned three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach.

The child’s name has been widely reported as Aylan, but in an interview yesterday father Abdullah, who survived the crossing, which also claimed the life of his five-year-old son Galip and wife Rehan, said his younger son’s name was spelt Alan.

The First Minister’s letter was sent ahead of an emergency summit on the crisis which she will chair in Edinburgh today. “I am in no doubt that we are all horrified by the scale of the refugee crisis unfolding on Europe’s shore. The tragic death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, washed up on Turkey’s beach line, only serves to highlight further the plight of the thousands of people seeking safety,” she wrote.

“The scale of such a humanitarian emergency is immense but it is not insurmountable. We recognise the need for long-term, coordinated action to tackle the causes of this crisis but this cannot be a substitute for an immediate humanitarian response.

“We, with our neighbours and friends across the EU, have a moral obligation to offer a place of safety to these desperate people fleeing conflict and persecution. I welcomed the expansion of the Syrian Vulnerable Person scheme but I would stress that this in itself is not sufficient to address the crisis we are witnessing.”

She added: “I strongly urge you to reconsider the UK Government’s current response. The Scottish Government believes we must take part in the EU response. We can start by participating in the initial EU proposals on relocation and refugee resettlement. The UK must take a proportionate share of people fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Earlier in the day, the First Minister had described Cameron’s response to the crisis as “utterly shameful”.

From the beginning of the Syrian crisis in early 2011 to the second quarter of 2015, the UK has granted asylum, or another form of humanitarian protection, to just under 5,000 Syrians in the initial decision on their application. In contrast, Germany is to accept 800,000 refugees by the end of this year.

Today’s summit will bring together groups from the refugee community, third sector, local authorities, political leaders, churches, the trade unions and other representatives of civic Scotland to discuss the situation and set out what Scotland can do to help.

Scottish Trades Union Congress General Secretary Grahame Smith said: “The UK Government must be prepared to accept a much higher number of refugees. With Germany already accepting 800,000 refugees this year, it is a scandal that the UK has only made provision for 216 Syrian refugees. We are a wealthy country with considerable resources – this cannot be our response to a conflict where four million people have been forced to flee.”

Source: The National