The UK will provide resettlement to “thousands more Syrian refugees”, David Cameron has announced.
The prime minister said the refugees welcomed to the UK would come from from UNHCR camps bordering Syria, and not from among the growing number of refugees in mainland Europe.
Speaking in Lisbon after talks with his Portuguese counterparts, Cameron said that Britain would act with its “head and heart” and alongside the resettlement of those most in need it would continue to seek long term solutions to end the four-year “bloodbath” in Syria.
“No European country has done more than Britain in this regard. Were it not for that massive aid, the numbers making the perilous journey to Europe today would be even higher.
“Now we have already accepted around 5,000 Syrians and have introduced a specific resettlement scheme, alongside those we already have, to help those Syrian refugees particularly at risk.
“As I said earlier this week, we will accept thousands more under these existing schemes and we keep them under review.
“And given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the people, today I can announce that we will do more – providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees.
“We will continue with our approach of taking them from the refugee camps. This provides them with a more direct and safe route to the UK, rather than risking the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many lives.
“We will discuss how best to design these schemes and the numbers we will take with NGOs and our partners. We will set out more details next week.
“Alongside this, Britain will continue to work with partners to tackle the conflict in Syria, to provide support to the region, to go after the smuggling gangs exploiting these people and to save lives at sea. HMS Enterprise remains in the Mediterranean alongside the Border Force cutters and together with HMS Bulwark, they have now rescued more than 6,700 people.
“Britain will act with our head and our heart, providing refuge for those in need while working on long term solutions to this crisis. As I said earlier in the week, that means bringing to an end to the conflicts that are driving so many to flee, including the bloodbath that has engulfed Syria.”
The announcement is a change in policy for the UK government, which has only housed 216 Syrian refugees in 2015, despite more than 220,000 making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to enter the EU and seek asylum.
Earlier this week, both David Cameron and George Osborne has maintained that Britain should not take in more refugees, but he has been persuaded by the changing tide of public opinion.
Calls for the UK to accept more refugees intensified after the publication of a photograph of a dead Syrian toddler, Alan Kurdi, who had drowned attempting to cross from Turkey to Greece.