Thank you to the hundreds of constituents who have written to me about the refugee crisis in Europe over the past few weeks. The compassion and willingness of residents in Dulwich and West Norwood to help is very moving. I am clear that the UK government must do more to help those fleeing conflict and persecution. I helped to secure the debate which will take place this afternoon in the House of Commons, adding my name to the list of back bench MPs calling for the issue to be discussed in the Chamber. This morning I took part in a moving vigil, attended by MPs of all parties, to remember the plight of refugees, and I have also signed an Early Day Motion which will be published tomorrow morning.
I am unfortunately unable to take part in this afternoon's debate myself due to an important session of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee which I have to attend at the same time. I have instead written to the Prime Minister, setting out what I would have said, had I been able to speak this afternoon. Please find the text of my letter below:
Dear Prime Minister,
I have been contacted by hundreds of my constituents in Dulwich and West Norwood regarding the refugee crisis unfolding in Europe and as I write the emails are still pouring in. They share my concern that the UK has so far not done more to support people in perilous conditions fleeing conflict and persecution, despite the fact that the scale of the crisis in Europe has been evident now for some months.
The small number of refugees who have been resettled here under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme is in stark contrast to the clear leadership shown by Germany on this issue. The UK can be rightly proud of the role that we have played in supporting previous refugee crises and I would urge you to rekindle the spirit of the Kindertransport and help to demonstrate once again our leadership on the world stage.
The reaction of my constituents to the refugee crisis has been overwhelming and very moving. Many are offering space in their homes to refugees so that when they arrive in Britain they have somewhere safe to go. Local groups are organising collections of essential items to be taken to refugee settlements throughout Europe.
I welcome your change of heart on this issue in the context of intense public campaigning, and I am pleased that the UK will be accepting more refugees. I also welcome your commitment to the provision of aid for the hundreds of thousands of refugees overseas who, although less visible in the media, must also remain a priority for us all. The images of the body of Aylan Kurdi are heartbreaking, but thousands of refugees have been in situations of comparable personal devastation and loss over many months, and it is deeply regrettable that you are only now taking action in the face of intense public pressure. It is also regrettable that the language you have used to describe this crisis has sought to mask the individual, personal tragedies like those of Ayan Kurdi’s family, labelling refugees a ‘swarm’.
I am concerned that there is much more that the government can and should be doing with regard to the refugee crisis in Europe. It is essential that our local authorities are properly resourced to support additional refugees, and I therefore hope that you will be making a further announcement on the support the government will be providing to local authorities to assist with resettlement. So many people have offered to open their homes to refugees, and I hope that you will be able to support this generosity by establishing a Voluntary National Homes Register to act as an intermediary between those who are willing to help and those who are in need of accommodation.
Finally, I urge you to work with other European Union leaders and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to work constructively towards an EU wide strategy for the refugee crisis, including most importantly, reducing the numbers of people making life threatening journeys across the Mediterranean Sea and stopping exploitative traffickers from taking advantage of extremely vulnerable people. The UK must engage positively with our European Union partners and the United Nations to address both the causes and the impacts of a humanitarian crisis which is unprecedented in Europe since the Second World War.
Helen Hayes MP