Over the past few weeks the amount of correspondence I have received regarding the migration crisis currently unfolding across Europe has been astonishing. Recent photos are clearly shocking and harrowing and this has no doubt prompted some people to write. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the UK will continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria – including as the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, having already pledged £1 billion. Some £60 million of the additional funding will help Syrians who are still in Syria.
I know that Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities. That is why we sent the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean, saving thousands of lives; why we meet our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our economy on aid; why Britain is the second biggest bilateral donor in the world to Syrian refugee camps; and why since the crisis began we have granted asylum to nearly 5,000 Syrians and their dependents through normal procedures.
The Vulnerable Persons Relocations scheme (VPRS) is already up and running, and has already welcomed 216 Syrians to the UK. This scheme will make a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable Syrians by giving them protection and support they need.
But we can do more. I am glad that the Prime Minister has proposed that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. These refugees will come straight from the camps in the Middle East to discourage refugees from taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. To support our local communities we will use the foreign aid budget to finance these refugees for the first year and help local councils with things like housing. In the longer term, we will continue to direct our additional aid spending to these failed states and to the refugee crisis.
Much has been made of the commitment from Germany to take in 800,000 migrants and how this compares to our own response. This is not a valid comparison as the two countries are quite different and have different economic needs. The UK has a rapidly expanding population while in Germany the overall population is shrinking. In Germany the percentage of those aged 65 and over compared with those aged between 15 and 64, is currently 32% but will rise to 59% by 2060 while in Britain it is expected that this figure will rise to only 43%. In essence, the German people will benefit from the economic stimulation extra working age people will bring - in the UK we do not have the same need and this must be reflected in our asylum and migration policies.
Simply taking people is not a solution to this crisis. We need a comprehensive solution that deals with the people most responsible for the terrible scenes we see: President Assad in Syria, the butchers of ISIL, and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people – we have to be as tough on them at the same time.
I am sure that this situation will develop more in the coming weeks and months but for now, residents can rest assured that this Conservative Government will continue this nation’s long tradition of sheltering the most vulnerable whist at the same time ensuring we act within our means, keep in mind our own limitations and do not damage our own stability or security with policies which have not been properly weighed and the implications considered.