EMMA LEWELL-BUCK: We need to do more to help refugee crisis

A migrant holds two children after they arrived in a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.
A migrant holds two children after they arrived in a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Like many readers I have watched the plight of Syrian refugees with growing concern in recent weeks.

The sight of thousands of refugees arriving in Europe with nothing more than the clothes on their back, their stories of the terror and hardship they have escaped – and of course the horrible image of the body of young Aylan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach – have had a profound effect on the British public.

In the last few days I have received a huge number of emails from constituents who want to see the Government doing more to help Syria’s refugees.

David Cameron has been too slow to take action, and now it looks as though his response will be too little, too late.

Syria has been in turmoil for more than four years, and during that time more than four million people have fled the country.

Labour has been calling for Britain to extend its refugee programme for more than two years, and while other European governments have gone above and beyond to welcome refugees, Britain has failed to come up with an appropriate response to this crisis.

The Prime Minister told the House of Commons earlier this week that Britain would be taking in 20,000 refugees over the next four years.

That commitment is welcome, but when a country like Germany has seen 300,000 asylum claims in the last 12 months alone we cannot pretend that Britain is meeting the scale of this challenge.

The Prime Minister is behind the public on this issue.

The outpouring of generosity from communities across the country has been astonishing, and has showed the amazing kindness and selflessness of the British public.

Local authorities have pledged to house families of refugees, and constituents have written to me eager to know what they can do to help.

If the compassion and ambition of the people of Shields was shared in Downing Street, Britain could be a model to the world in this time of need.

Nobody is asking us to throw open our borders, and we know that we don’t have the power to help every one of Syria’s four million refugees.

But when people look at the scale of the catastrophe in Syria and the response of other European nations they understandably want to know why Britain isn’t doing more.

In the past when refugees have fled from the evils of war and poverty, Britain has been a safe haven, whether it was to Jews fleeing the horrors of Nazi Germany or Ugandan Asians in the 1970s.

Our history reminds us that Britain can be a world leader not just in terms of power, but for its humanity as well.

I hope that we will match the compassion and heroism of previous generations in responding to the humanitarian disaster in Syria.