Lots of constituents have contacted me over the last 48 hours about the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, most - in the light of the very distressing picture of the body of a young Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach - wanting the Government to do more but some arguing that the country is already full up.
This country has - on the whole - a proud history of providing help to those fleeing conflict and/or persecution and like many of my constituents I want us to live up to that legacy as we respond to this crisis.
Over the last four years, the UK has been doing more than some of those who contacted me are perhaps aware. The Government has deployed Royal Navy vessels to the Mediterranean, where our highly-trained service personnel are saving thousands of lives. We are the second biggest provider, after only the United States, of aid to Syrian refugees in the region (although the media’s attention is focused on those trying to enter Europe, most Syrian refugees are either displaced within Syria or in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey). And over the last two years, we’ve given sanctuary in this country to around 5,000 Syrian refugees.
We must do more, but the situation is complex. Some of the people trying to cross the Mediterranean are refugees fleeing from conflict and/or persecution in places like Libya and Syria; others are economic migrants from elsewhere looking (quite understandably) for a better life in Europe. We clearly cannot allow everyone who would like to come to Europe to come here and we have to be careful that any action we take doesn’t encourage more people to put their lives in the hands of the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people. The long-term solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is obviously to bring an end to the terrible civil war there. But in the short term we must do all we can to save lives.
I want to reassure those who have contacted me of two things: first, that I will pass on their concerns directly to the Prime Minister; and second, that he has already made it clear this morning that we can and will do more by providing sanctuary to thousands more refugees. At a time when some people seem to believe that there is ‘no more room at the inn’, it is good to know that so many of my constituents have compassion for human beings so desperate to escape a warzone that they are willing to take terrible risks to do so.