British PM in Middle East to discuss refugee crisis

British PM in Middle East to discuss refugee crisis
4 min read
14 September, 2015
David Cameron has arrived in Jordan for talks regarding the Syrian refugee crisis following his visit to Lebanon Monday morning, where he met with refugees who will resettle in Britain.
The British government has been criticised for its response to the refugee crisis [Getty]

British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in Jordan on Monday for a visit to a Syrian refugee camp and talks with King Abdullah II, the foreign ministry in Amman said.

Cameron flew in from Lebanon where he met Syrian refugees hours after appointing a minister to oversee the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Britain.

"I wanted to come here to see for myself and to hear for myself stories of refugees," the British leader said.

     I wanted to come here to see for myself and to hear for myself stories of refugees

Cameron met with refugees who will resettle in Britain and vowed to continue his country's support for Lebanese troops fighting the extremists of the Islamic State group.

Following a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart Tammam Salam in Beirut, Cameron said, "We discussed that both our countries face extremism and what more we can do to work together to defeat this threat."

Cameron said Britain has already provided training to over 5,000 Lebanese soldiers and helped build a series of watch towers on the Lebanese border with Syria.

A 'warm welcome' in Britain

Earlier in the day, the British premier visited the eastern Bekaa Valley and met some refugees who have fled the civil war in their country.

"This morning I was in the Bekaa Valley to see for myself that (Lebanese) hospitality and meeting with some of the Syrian refugees that we will resettle the United Kingdom," Cameron told reporters after meeting Salam.

The British Prime Minister said earlier this month that Britain will take in up to 20,000 refugees over the next five years.

Cameron announced on Monday that he was appointing MP Richard Harrington as a new minister specifically for Syrian refugees.

Harrington would make sure that the resettling of the 20,000 "happens rapidly, it happens well, and the whole country pulls together to deliver that" Cameron said.

The area that Cameron visited is less than a mile from the Syrian border.

The Syrian war, which has killed 250,000 people since 2011, has forced half of all Syrians from their homes, creating four million refugees and displacing some 7.6 million more within the country.

Lebanon, where one in every four people is a refugee, is hosting the greatest number of Syrian refugees per capita of any country in the world. It has called on other countries to share the burden. 

Some refugees in Lebanon live in informal tented settlements without easy access to electricity and clean water while others rent garages, spare rooms or empty buildings to house their families. 

"I want to focus on how we help Syrian refugees here in Lebanon, in Jordan, how we make sure we discourage people from making this dangerous journey to Europe but instead we take people from these camps and we make them welcome in the United Kingdom, in our country," Cameron said.

"We make sure there are homes for them to go to, schools for their children, a warm welcome in Britain."

Cameron's visit to Beirut also comes amid the flow of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to Europe.

Tens of thousands of refugees have been trekking from Greece via the Balkans and Hungary towards western Europe.

The crisis has prompted some European leaders to announce a greater refugee intake, led by Germany which expects an estimated one million people to arrive this year.

"Around three percent of the 11 million Syrians forced from their homes have sought asylum in Europe," Cameron said.

"Without British aid, hundreds of thousands more could be risking their lives seeking to get to Europe, so these funds are part of our comprehensive approach to tackle migration from the region."

Britain last week announced it would spend an additional 100 million pounds on Syrian refugees, 40 million of which will go to UN and other non-governmental groups working with refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Nearly two-thirds of that 40 million pounds will be spent in Lebanon, which is hosting more than 1.1 million refugees despite having a population of just four million citizens.

Under pressure

The UK leader has been under pressure internationally and domestically to address the refugee crisis.

He has vowed to "help to stabilise countries where the refugees are coming from" and the figure represents a vast expansion of Britain's refugee programme, a change signalled by Cameron last week.

He also declared himself as being "deeply moved" by images of three-year-old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, found dead on a Turkish beach.

Cameron said he would "seek a solution to the crisis in Syria, push for the formation of a new unity government in Libya and bust the criminal gangs."

Charity Oxfam welcomed Cameron's announcement, calling it an important first step.

"It will give much needed respite to people fleeing horrors most of us can only imagine," said Mark Goldring, Oxfam's chief executive.

"This is a good step forward, but its far from job done."

Britain has accepted 216 Syrian refugees under a special government scheme over the past year and nearly 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum since the conflict there broke out in 2011 - a number far fewer than countries like Germany and Sweden.

Britain has also opted out of a quota system for relocating asylum seekers within the European Union despite growing calls in the EU for fairer distribution.