David Cameron has announced that Britain will accept "thousands" more refugees, having bowed to pressure over the humanitarian crisis in the last few days.
The Prime Minister, who has been criticised on all sides for failing to act, today committed to provide resettlement for "thousands more Syrian refugees". He said Britain would act "with our head and our heart".
"We will continue with our approach of taking them from the refugee camps," he announced from Portugal, where he is on a state visit. "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."
PM: Today I can announce that we will accept thousands more Syrian refugees under existing schemes, which we'll keep under review #Syria— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) September 4, 2015
Cameron had come under growing pressure to do more after images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who was drowned on Bodrum beach in Turkey, were made public this week. He has received criticism both from his own party and opposition parties, as well as international leaders.
A petition calling for the government to accept more asylum seekers has now gained more than 330,000 signatures – more than three times the number required for the matter to be considered for a debate in Parliament.
Yesterday Cameron said he was "deeply moved" as a father by shocking pictures. He added that Britain's response to the crisis was "under review" and promised the UK would fulfil its "moral responsibilities".
PM: Britain will act with our head and our heart, providing refuge for those in need while working on a long term solution to #Syria crisis— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) September 4, 2015
But so far the UK's response has been underwhelming. Official figures suggest just 216 Syrian people were admitted to the country last year under the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme – fewer than the number of seats on a standard Tube train.
By contrast, Germany has accepted 35,000 vulnerable Syrians through the UN scheme, Canada more than 10,000, Australia 5,600 and Switzerland 3,500. Germany said last month it expected to take in up to 800,000 migrants this year.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is next week expected to call for EU countries to resettle some 160,000 migrants around the continent.