The UK Will Take 20,000 Refugees In The Next 5 Years. Is That A Lot, Or Could The UK Accommodate More?
United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday that the U.K. will take 20,000 refugees over the next five years, according to CNN. But, to help redistribute the load on other European Union nations like Germany and Austria, Cameron said the U.K. would take refugees who have been placed in camps bordering Syria rather than those who have already entered Europe. Cameron said vulnerable children and orphans would be prioritized in what would be a "national effort," according to BBC News. Is 20,000 refugees even a lot though? Cameron was just criticized by French President François Hollande, who said the U.K. was "shirking its duties" by not taking in as many refugees as it could actually accommodate.
Cameron said the existing Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, which has been in place since early 2014, would be expanded. This means an additional 20,000 people currently living in camps in Syria, Turkey, and Jordan will be resettled in the U.K. by 2020, reports BBC News. Cameron said he hopes this method will incentivize people to stay in their home countries until they can be safely transported to the U.K. People brought to Britain under the VPR will be granted "humanitarian protection," which is often used for people who don't "qualify" for asylum but would be at "real risk of suffering serious harm" in their home country. In their first five years in Britain, they have the right to work and access public funds. After five years they can apply to settle in the U.K.
Cameron said the government would work with administration in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as councils in England to make sure a maximum amount of space and resources are available. A statement from the Prime Minster stated that the U.K. "will continue to show the world that this country is a country of extra compassion":
Britain will play its part alongside our other European partners but because we're not part of the EU's borderless Schengen agreement or its relocation initiative Britain is able to decide its own approach. We will continue with our approach of taking refugees from the camps and elsewhere in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. This provides refugees with a more direct and safe route to the UK rather than risking the hazardous journey to Europe which has tragically cost so many lives.
Britain's Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper said Monday that Britain needs to go further by taking both refugees in camps as well as refugees who have already arrived in Europe to help ease the burden on Greece, where many refugees are arriving after they cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to The Telegraph. She suggested that Britain take 50,000 refugees "if we can."
Cameron's stance has been criticized by humanitarian advocates who say that thousands of children who cross the sea alone need protection that the U.K. could have a hand in providing. Furthermore, Alan Travis, writing for The Guardian, said the usual formula for deciding how many refugees a country can take is one refugee for every 200 residents. By that formula, the U.K. should take 320,000 Syrian refugees.
And Travis argued that the U.K. has the infrastructure to take many more than 20,000. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Travis said Britain took in more than 75,000 asylum seekers each year over three years, reaching a peak of 84,000 in 2002. The U.K. has only taken 25,000 asylum seekers in the past 12 months, despite the fact that the same systems that offered housing and support to refugees fleeing the breakup of the Balkans is still in place in the U.K.
The U.K. could offer a much larger target of 50,000 to 80,000 refugees when Europe meets in two weeks to discuss the migration crisis, but Cameron's preliminary number of 20,000 is definitely pretty small.