Ian Murray: Can’t close borders to those in need

Refugees rest on a railway line at the Hungarian border. Picture: AFP/Getty
Refugees rest on a railway line at the Hungarian border. Picture: AFP/Getty
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BRITAIN has a proud history of welcoming those fleeing war and persecution, says Ian Murray, and we must be ready to do so again

Politics has been dominated by the harrowing refugee crisis in recent weeks, culminating in the Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK will resettle 20,000 refugees over the next five years, to be taken directly from camps on the Syrian border.

This was a welcome change from his initial, inexcusable, stance, that the UK would accept no further refugees, and so abandon thousands of women, children and men, stuck in the most unimaginable circumstances.

With Europe in the midst of arguably the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, such a callous reaction would have shamed us all, and contravened moral imperatives.

It took the shocking picture of an ordinary young boy, Aylan, lying dead on a beach in Turkey to turn the 
attention of the world on the refugee and humanitarian crisis unfolding on our borders. I’d challenge anyone not to be upset and moved by that image.

David Cameron himself referred to our nation’s “moral conscience”; yet, in its inadequate response to this crisis, his government has come dangerously close to misappropriating it.

And there are a number of areas in which that response remains deficient.

First, 20,000 refugees over five years equates to just 4000 a year. We can do better than that. The Scottish Refugee Council says we could take 10,000 now. That is a tiny handful for each local authority.

Second, we need specific, tailored action to aid the thousands of displaced and unaccompanied children already in Europe.

Save the Children has said that the UK should take 3000 unaccompanied children. I would agree with that. Can you imagine your sons, daughters, nephews and nieces fleeing a war-torn country alone to seek sanctuary in another continent? It’s heart-breaking.

Third, the PM must reconsider his refusal to accommodate refugees already in Europe. He claimed that to do so would encourage other people to hazard the journey; but no-one would risk such a perilous journey unless their life and that of their family depended on it.

So far, the Government’s response has been laboured, in both word and action.

In stark contrast, the people of Edinburgh have risen to the challenge, with more than 800 of my constituents contacting me this week calling for us all to help where needed.

Meanwhile, international aid charity Mercy Corps, based in Edinburgh South, has been providing emergency response to people living in camps, providing basic resources like water and shelter.

Under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme Edinburgh is looking to take 250 families, and will strive to take more if needed. That is very welcome.

Last week, the Scottish Government pledged to accommodate 1000 refugees, and I am sure they will accommodate the greater share that will now be required.

Across the UK, we are seeing an outpouring of sympathy matched by a willingness to act.

Throughout our history, we have welcomed people fleeing war and persecution. They in turn have enriched our economy, our society, and our culture. Quite simply – they have made us better.

We may be an island, but we are part of Europe; we are part of the world. As we stand back and survey the turmoil unfolding before us, one thing is certain: this crisis is not going away, and further action will be needed. We cannot close our borders to those in need, or our minds to the suffering of others.

They are ordinary people just like us all and we should help where we can.The compassion of Edinburgh people has shone through whenever it has been required and I know it will do so again. Let’s make Aylan’s legacy a better life for those that he has left behind.

• Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South