SCOTLAND will take at least 1,000 refugees caught up in the escalating humanitarian crisis as soon as the UK government accepts its “fair share” of asylum seekers, Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday.
The First Minister told MSPs that Scotland stood ready to offer a home to those fleeing war and persecution and she urged David Cameron to increase the number of refugees allowed into the UK to 10,000.
“We have repeatedly made clear to the UK government our determination that Scotland plays a full party in efforts to offer sanctuary to those in desperate need,” she said. “The UK government’s refusal to take part in the EU’s collective efforts on relocation and resettlement is, in my view, utterly shameful. But for us to take refugees, as I want us to do, the UK government has to take its fair share and I call on David Cameron to do so.”
Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has said Britain should accept at least 10,000 refugees.
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said she agreed with that figure and that Scotland’s share, pro-rata, would be at “an absolute minimum”, 1,000. Referring to shocking photographs of a drowned Syrian boy washed up on a beach in Turkey, Ms Sturgeon said she was “far from the only person reduced to tears”.
“We simply cannot walk by on the other side or that little boy who we were all so touched by will become one of many, many more. We cannot, must not, have that on our conscience,” she said. “We must respond as human beings.”
Last night, pressure was mounting on the Prime Minister to review his stance after the UK government declined to join a United Nations’ scheme for resettling the most vulnerable refugees.
Instead, the UK will continue to operate its own programme, which has admitted 216 people over the past year. Some 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in the past four years.
By contrast Germany has accepted 35,000 Syrians escaping their war-ravaged country, Canada more than 10,000, Australia 5,600 and Switzerland 3,500.
Britain has exercised its opt-out from the EU’s Schengen open borders system to avoid being included in proposals that could see 160,000 asylum seekers being moved from makeshift camps and overcrowded holding centres in Hungary, Italy and Greece.
Yesterday Mr Cameron insisted that Britain would fulfil its “moral responsibilities” but refused to say whether Britain would increase the number of refugees it allows into the country.
The Prime Minister said he was “deeply moved” by the photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, which have highlighted the human tragedy of the refugee crisis engulfing Europe.
“Anyone who saw those pictures could not help but be moved,” he said.
“Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities. There’s not a solution to this problem that is simply about taking people. We need a comprehensive solution, a new government in Libya, we need to deal with the problems in Syria. I would say the people most responsible are President Assad in Syria and the butchers of Isil.”
Labour and some Conservatives have warned the Prime Minister that he is facing a “test of humanity” and must honour Britain’s tradition of offering sanctuary to those in need.
Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said the flow of people was now “the worst humanitarian crisis to reach European shores since World War Two”.
In a letter to Mr Cameron she wrote: “I know you will not want to be the Prime Minister of a government that fails to offer sanctuary while our neighbours are stepping up to respond.”
Alex Salmond, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman, said Mr Cameron was “shaming the country”.
“When we see pictures of toddlers lying dead on a beach, then the natural human instinct is to help. David Cameron’s natural instinct is to walk by on the other side, and that’s why he’s shaming the country,” Mr Salmond told the BBC.
Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, an Iraqi immigrant who came to the UK with his family aged nine after fleeing Saddam Hussein’s regime, said the image of Aylan Kurdi was a source of “shame”.
He wrote on Twitter: “We are nothing without compassion. Pic should make us all ashamed. We have failed in Syria. I am sorry little angel, RIP.”
Another Conservative MP, Tom Tugendhat, said: “Our common humanity demands action at home and abroad.”
David Burrowes, Tory MP for Enfield Southgate, said: “We should be doing more It is too little, too late.”
German and Italian politicians have already hinted that Mr Cameron’s bid to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership terms could suffer unless he agrees to share more of the migrant burden while French president François Hollande delivered a thinly-veiled swipe at the UK by complaining that some countries were not “shouldering their moral obligations”.
European Council president Donald Tusk, seen as an ally of the PM, upped the pressure further by arguing that “all EU members” needed to take their share of refugees.
“Now are times of a major test for all EU members. Therefore I call on all EU leaders to re-double their efforts,” he told a press conference.
“Accepting more refugees is not the only but an important gesture of real solidarity. Fair distribution of at least 100,000 refugees among the EU states is what we need today.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: “Many that come are from Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, the Gambia or Senegal. They are not all from Syria.”