The shocking stories of refugees from Syria should stir a response

David Cameron seems, at last, to be softening his stance, but references to “swarms” of refugees have been shocking. It has felt as if he were a party-politician more in sympathy with the xenophobic strand of his own party than a statesman able to see the plight of people making desperate journeys to escape a situation in Syria that most of people in the UK should be glad not to understand.

The numbers should inject some realism. The total population of Syria is just under 23 Million. The total population of the European Union is 503 Million.Around 7.6 million people have been displaced within Syria, 1.6 million to Turkey, 1.2 million to Lebanon, 600,000 to Jordan, 242,000 to Iraq, 136,000 to Egypt. That puts the 150,000 who have sought asylum in the EU into perspective.

Surely we should be providing asylum for those who need it, and not whipping up fears. The costs need to be taken with caution — support in the short term will cost us, but those refugees who settle in the EU will end up paying taxes and contributing to society. If we get it right, those who eventually return to Syria will help to build bridges between our countries. Both of these are good things.

There have been mutterings about forms of military intervention — Liam Fox on The World at One (4 September 2015) suggested that the Commons got it wrong in voting not to intervene when there was evidence of Assad was using chemical weapons on his own people and arguing for an enforced “safe zone” in Syria. In July Michael Fallon seeming to be seeking support for the bombing of ISIS positions in Syria.

But the West has a dismally-consistent record of military interventions in the Middle East that end up making things worse. Recent interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have not been notable successes. We could do some real good if we took some of the money we might spend on a military intervention and used it to help refugees, in Europe and in refugee camps nearer to Syria.

Genuine compassion and support at this stage puts us on a very different page from either Assad’s regime in Syria or ISIS. This isn’t about intervening in a way that actually defeats them. This is about acting in a compassionate, non-violent way that has the potential to make lasting change.

The refugee crisis is challenging the EU. The Schengen agreement that provided for open borders in most of the EU assumed refugees and asylum-seekers arriving in lower numbers than we now have, so it may need to be tweaked. Climate change is likely to lead to more migration of people from parts of the world that become uninhabitable. The EU was created to ensure peace and stability in Europe, and it is only in the time since it was formed that people in Western Europe have not faced the prospect of becoming refugees.

We Europeans are now in a very fortunate position. People seek sanctuary in our part of the world rather than fleeing it. Our long-term stability depends on friendly relations with the rest of the world. Responding in a compassionate way is the humane thing to do, but it also builds the connections with the rest of the world that protect our long-term stability.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • I don’t normaly agree with anything the Tories do but in this instance it would be better to take refugees from the camps that border Syria so as to discourage those making the dangerous journey across the sea. As from the news reports on channel 4 news interesting discussion with a Syrian refugee heading to Germany all he seemed to be inerested in was explaining that he studied in Germany before and he wanted to go back there to do his Masters Degree as he would not have to pay for it and he did not have much to say about his conditions in Syria and why he was leaving. Noticed on Channel 4 news that due to the open door policy from Germany for Syrian refugees that economic migrants from other Balkan countries as well as Afghanistan , Pakistan, India and Africa have headed to Hungary and are absorbing themselves into the Syrian refugees exodus making their way to Germany. We need to help refugees and explain the difference between a refugees and economic migrants.

  • Will

    “I don’t normaly agree with anything the Tories do but in this instance it would be better to take refugees from the camps that border Syria so as to discourage those making the dangerous journey across the sea.”

    Also it ensures that the most venerable are given priority. Those who only look at the boarder are looking at those able to get themselves to Europe, there are many who would not be able to make those journeys who should be identified and found help faster.

  • Richard Underhill 7th Sep '15 - 2:16pm

    BBC1 Daily Politics is back, including a contribution from one of the Hitchen brothers. The Daily Mail often quotes large quantities of factual material, thereby filling space and building credibility, before arriving at opinions which are biased or prejudiced or both.
    On the Daily Politics Hitchens proceeded to redefine a refugee and proceeded unchallenged, which seems to leave the BBC caving in to pressure.
    The definition is in the 1951 convention. A refugee does not cease to be a refugee just because he/she is outside the country where persecution is feared. “…and is unable or unwilling to return because of a well founded fear of persecution ..”

    As well as those who fear persecution there are breaches of Articles 2,3,4 of the Human Rights Convention. These people would be granted Humanitarian Protection in the UK if their claims are acceopted.

  • “the West has a dismally-consistent record of military interventions in the Middle East that end up making things worse. Recent interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have not been notable successes.”

    This is dangerous thinking, you should never close off options. At the end of the day there is a crazy death cult over running a large chunk of the middle east and saying we won’t do anything to help those there is not an answer.

    There is a number of very bad situations but to fully judge them is not really possible as there is no counter factual comparison. Right now direct military intervention does not seem a good idea as there is such a confused position of what the intended outcome would be. However if there becomes a viable strategy (something that was lacking in the past) that required military intervention it should not be ruled out on the basis of recent failures.

    Various attempts at intervention in the Balkans failed before some commitment did help with stabilising the region. The important point about failure is to learn the correct lesson from it.

    The appetite for intervention does go in cycles (anti-intervention feeling being closer to post-Vietnam than it was post-Rwanda/post-Srebrenica) but if there is a workable strategy devised we need to do what we can to implement it.

  • “those who eventually return to Syria will help to build bridges between our countries.”

    Recent historical evidence, of mass exodus of people from war zones in former eastern Europe show only a minority will do this. And this is exactly what we are seeing, many of those currently in Europe, see it as their right to come and stay in Europe and have no intention of returning to Syria, and so are really just using the situation in Syria and our naive approach to handling the situation.

    As for the numbers, I’ve noted before on LDV, 150,000 should be more than enough people to put through basic training and return them to Syria as part of a liberating and civilising force for the region; However, these people have to want to be apart of this and as we are seeing in Afghanistan and Iraq this is proving to be problematic; which suggest we probably need to be less accommodating.

  • Richard Underhill 7th Sep '15 - 11:57pm

    Jayne Mansfield 7th Sep ’15 – 10:28pm Who told you that?
    It is definitely the case that children can qualify as refugees. UNHCR purs up posters that say “Jesus was a refugee” because King Herod wanted to slaughter all children under the age of two. It was the child who needed protection and went to Egypt for a while, until it was safe to return.
    Someone recognised as a refugee in the UK gets granted leave to remain irrespective of age.
    What your informant may be thinking about is the granting of limited leave to enter or remain to unaccompanied minors who are not refugees. At the 18th birthday the person is no longer a child, but there may be other reasons why the young adult would stay in the UK, depending on personal circumstances.
    The use of the word “deportation” is also excessive, because it includes a provision preventing return, which is mainly used for convicted criminals and needs to be signed by a Minister or a very senior civil servant.
    If removal happens it would be either voluntary or an administrative removal. In both cases return to the UK is possible if a valid visa is granted.

  • Richard Underhill it was Paddy Ashdown who tweeted earlier (re-tweeted by Nick Thornby) that a Minister from the Lords had confirmed to him that refugee organs and children brought into the UK under Cameron’s scheme WILL be deported at 18 – it’s in the sidebar on the right hand side.

    (My capitals)

  • Sorry “orfans” not ” organs”.

    {that would be even more jaw-dropping!}

  • @Jayne Mansfield
    “It will be important, if one wishes to maintain good will to refugees, to ensure that there is fairness and those who are economic migrants, ( sad as some of their stories are), are sent home.
    Do you believe there is lack of will in EU nations to do this?”

    Yes there is lack of will in EU nations to send economic migrants home, what I cannot understand is why there is loads of economic migrants in Calais trying to get into UK when they could just hitch a lift or get onto a bus to Germany as the German economy is booming and they seem to need people for jobs. On Channel 4 news tonight a representative from the World food Organisation said the refugees in the camp in Bekaa Valley and other camps surrounding Syria may end up joining the exodus to Germany. Yes we have to have rules that are fair and apply to refugees only .

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 10:27am

    Phyllis 8th Sep ’15 – 12:11am Phyllis 8th Sep ’15 – 12:12am i regret that i missed David Cameron’s statement yesterday but i did hear Harriet Harman’s reply through the front door i was knocking on.
    It is a constant battle to get accurate language used, but it seems unlikely to me that a government minister with civil service help in drafting would make such a fundamental error as to say “deportation” when he/she means “removal”.
    i repeat “The use of the word “deportation” is also excessive, because it includes a provision preventing return, which is mainly used for convicted criminals and needs to be signed by a Minister or a very senior civil servant.”
    If someone can find the original in Lords’ Hansard it would be helpful, because either the minister has erred, or there has been a dramatic change in policy which would greatly slow the process.

  • Phyllis

    Or possibly even “orphans” ?

    Paddy has been on radio this morning saying that Cameron has changed his tune and the reality is that they will have to apply to stay at 18, and may well be refused…

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 11:02am

    There is another, obvious factor. If the unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people from the UNHCR camps near Syria are intended by the UK government to be returned there are at least two consequences.
    Firstly when brought to the UK by a safe route avoiding people traffickers the unnaccompanied minors will not be granted permanent settlement immediately, which is also what happens with recognised refugees and those granted Humanitarian Protection under the Human Rights Convention.
    Secondly if they are Syrians it would be necessary to find a safe destination to send them to if the situation in Syria continues to be difficult. The pattern of the war/s might change, any/either side might win, key combatants might lose power or die. The future is uncertain.
    A previous Tory government had a policy of refusing asylum to Bosnians during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, while granting short term leave to remain outside the Immigration Rules, on the basis that the applicants could return to a multi-ethnic Bosnia when the war was over.
    Apart from the optimism of the forecast, that policy was also a clear breach of the relevant laws because asylum decisions need to be taken correctly on the day they are taken and, if appealed, taken afresh on the date of the appeal, which is later. Most Bosnians granted leave in this way were renewed and eventually reached permanent settlement.
    So, in a nutshell, when is the war in Syria going to end? If we do not know, then when is a safe area going to be established? and will it still be safe when the minors reach their eighteenth birthdays?

  • AndrewMcC

    Thanks 🙂 I can spell, honest! but sadly my ipad cannot and by the time I noticed “orfans” I’d lost the will to make another post for the hardworking Mods to approve!

    The Independent is running this :

    “But it later emerged all those accepted under the scheme will only be given the right to remain in the UK for five years. This, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats Lord Ashdown suggested, could mean orphans and children being deported at age 18 having made a new life in Britain. A government spokesman said that after the five-year period refugees could apply for indefinite leave to remain.”

    I think the word “deport” is Paddy’s, Richard. It seems perfectly sensible to me that if there are s any chance the refugees could return to their homes they should not be encouraged to think that the UK, or any other country, is their “forever home” because Syria will need young, well-educated, westernised people to return and re-build their country. Of course if that isn’t a possibility, they should be allowed to remain indefinitely.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 11:21am

    Jayne Mansfield 8th Sep ’15 – 11:04am. ” concern I feel for the orphaned children” .Please put more uncertainty into this extremely untidy situation. Some of the children will know that they are orphans, but may be emotionally upset. Some will be separated from their parents but charities give them some hope that their parents may be outside Syria and might be re-unitied through charities such as the International Red Cross. Some of these hopes will be prolonged band unsuccessful, but, bureaucratic as it may sound, documentation of large numbers of people in multiple jurisdictions is needed.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 11:26am

    AndrewMcC 8th Sep ’15 – 10:51am Whether they are refused depends on many factors, including whether we are able to defend the Human Rights Act. The younger they are on arrival the longer their association with the Uk before they reach 18 years of age, the more likelihood that their lives will change. Beware of spin intended for hardliners in the government’s parliamentary party.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 11:30am

    Jayne Mansfield 8th Sep ’15 – 11:04am Please add Afghani interpreters who are at risk in their home country because they have worked for UK or allied forces in Afghanistan, OR ARE PERCEIVED TO HAVE DONE SO. Paddy is campaigning for them, but the outcome seems currently uncertain.
    The UK is not alone in this, the exit of the USA from Vietnam was inglorious.

  • Shaun Young 8th Sep '15 - 12:01pm

    @ Richard Underhill

    The issue around minors and those attaining the age of 18 being “deported” can be found here:

    It is in relation to Q and A response to questions, starting at column 1254, paragraph 4. I have read through to column 1259 end of paragraph 1. I think some of issue has been taken out of context, but you may have a better understanding of it as it left me a little confused!

    Hope this helps!

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 3:55pm

    Shaun Young 8th Sep ’15 – 12:01pm Thank you.
    Paddy is using the word “deport” in the broad sense that UK government is enforcing removal, but because deportation also prevents return there is a difference in who decides.
    If i remember correctly Paddy took a job in the former Yugoslavia after he was an MP and before he became a peer.
    i remember him speaking in the National Liberal Club on his return and also giving his views on Iraq.
    We should also remember that he has experience in small boats in difficult conditions from his service in the SBS.
    Obviously some of the minors will become eligible for deportation if they incur sufficiently serious criminal records in the UK, but it would be necessary to find a country which would accept them if the country of their nationality is wholly unsafe.
    There is another problem in asylum considerations. Suppose someone is an Iraqi in an UNHCR camp in Jordan. Suppose there are areas in Iraq not under the control of Isis (nor, of course, of Assad). An opportunity to get out of the camp arises and people claim to come from Syria. Suppose the language spoken is Arabic, or English. How should those making the choice discern who should be included? and who should be refused? It should be UNHCR and on criteria of vulnerability.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 4:15pm

    Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister realises what a discreditable attempt at press management it is to bring these two Statements together to us this afternoon. On the question of refugees, may I ask her to confirm what I think she said a moment ago—that any child or orphan brought in under this scheme will, as is the case under present legislation, be deported at the age of 18? That is what she seemed to say. Is that correct? And can she please explain the logic whereby the Government say that they will help refugees who are already housed and secure, and already being fed, in refugee camps outside Europe, but will do nothing for refugees who are desperate, and in some cases dying, for want of those things inside Europe? Is the difficult thing, which the Government cannot say, the words “inside Europe”?

    Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am not going to dignify the noble Lord’s comments about press management with a response.
    In response to the specific questions he asked, the point I was trying to make about the way in which we will support refugees who come to us who are children is that there is a clear legal framework that applies when people arrive here as refugees, which includes, after so many years, people being entitled to residency in the United Kingdom. I am not suggesting that there is a new set of rules, or a

    7 Sep 2015 : Column 1259

    change to existing rules, because of this expanded refugee programme at this time. As for those seeking refuge who have already arrived in Europe, I agree with the noble Lord that we have seen harrowing evidence of suffering not just over the last few days but over the last few weeks, but we are very clear in our mind as a Government that the best policy is the one that we are pursuing: to support people in Syria and to offer refuge to those in the camps in the countries on the borders of Syria, in order to prevent more people risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean to seek refuge. We really believe that that is the right way forward.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Sep '15 - 8:12pm

    Perhaps Ming Campbell can help, defence and foreign affairs are areas of expertise.

  • nvelope2003 8th Sep '15 - 9:37pm

    Did anyone else see tonight’s Channel 4 News story on how Syrian women are treated by their husbands and brothers ? They are routinely beaten and consider this as normal. Very distressing.

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