11 SEP 2015

No one doing more than Britain in refugee crisis

The current refugee crisis is a grave concern to us here in Dover and Deal. It one of the biggest challenges facing countries across Europe. Not for the first time, our community is on the front line.

Over 220,000 people this year alone have attempted to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. Much of this migration has been prompted by civil war, particularly in Syria and Libya, as well as the rise of ISIS. Over 11 million Syrians have now fled their homes.

This is not a problem which is going to disappear soon. I was deeply moved by the photograph of Aylan Kurdi found drowned on a Turkish beach after attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Greece. This brought home to all the desperate situation of these refugees. It has led people to ask what we are doing to stop any more needless deaths and protect those fleeing conflict and war.

The UK has been leading the way. We have been the second biggest donor to Syria since the crisis began. We have provided £900 million to Syria and the surrounding region since 2012. This money is having a direct impact to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable Syrians. The aid has provided over 18 million food rations, as well as water, education and vital medical supplies to millions in the region. It has also helped provide shelter to 409,000 persons displaced from their homes due to the conflict. No European country has given more than Britain.

We have also taken steps to tackle criminal gangs and traffickers who profit from human misery and send thousands to their deaths on unsafe boats. HMS Bulwark and HMS Enterprise, along with other Royal Navy cutters, remain in the Mediterranean to disrupt trafficking efforts and rescue boats in difficulty.

Britain has a proud history of providing sanctuary to persecuted groups and those fearing for their lives. We will also help take more Syrian refugees in dire need. Britain has already accepted around 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers to give sanctuary to those particularly at risk. The Prime Minster has pledged the UK will take 20,000 more refugees. Crucially, these refugees will be drawn from humanitarian camps around Syria to stop more refugees trying to make the extremely dangerous crossing to Europe.

Money from the aid budget will be diverted to help Syrians. We must use this to fund more places of safety for Syrian refugees. These can be available at short notice to those fleeing their homes and will help them return home when the conflict ends. More resources and areas of sanctuary around Syria will help stem the tide of boats making the treacherous journey to Europe.

Of course, the long-term solution to this problem is the end of conflicts which drive so many to flee, including the escalating bloodbath in Syria. But in the short-term, it's vital Britain acts to play its part, and continues to help the most vulnerable. What we are doing is the right thing to do.

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Charlie Elphicke

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