Nigel Farage says the UK should honour its obligations under international law
The UK should take in some refugees from Syria’s civil war, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has said.
He told BBC News that Western countries should agree to take an allocation, but he did not specify numbers.
Mr Farage, who has led opposition to allowing open immigration from Romania and Bulgaria in the new year, said refugees were “a very different thing”.
The UK government is refusing to accept Syrian refugees, saying it is better to offer financial help.
Mr Farage said: “I think refugees are a very different thing to economic migration and I think this country should honour the 1951 declaration on refugee status that was agreed.
“It was agreed with the UN and even through the European Court, which sadly has changed its role.
“But the original ideas of defining what a refugee is were good ones and I think, actually, there is a responsibility on all of us in the free West to try and help some of those people fleeing Syria, literally in fear of their lives.”
He said it was time for “a proper debate” about “the difference between a refugee – who fears for his or her life – or somebody moving simply for economic benefit”.
While Mr Farage did not put a figure on the estimated nine million Syrians displaced by war who should be allowed into the UK, Labour wants to accept 400 to 500.
On Saturday, the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties issued a joint statement backing a UN appeal to raise £4bn to help Syrian refugees.
David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg said the fate of a Syrian generation “hangs in the balance” with four million children caught up in the civil conflict.
The leaders said the UK would add to the £523m it had already committed and urged other nations to do the same.
The UK says its aid is providing support including food, medical care and relief items for people in Syria and to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.
The government has previously said that while it has no plans to resettle or provide temporary protection to Syrian refugees, it was giving “as much help as possible” to people in the region and said its £500m pledge was “more than the other EU member states combined”.
It said that more than 1,100 Syrian nationals were granted asylum in the year leading up to 30 September, and added that individual asylum claims would be considered “on their merits”.
Former Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, has previously said that the UK has a “responsibility” to help those affected.
“It would be entirely reasonable for the UK to take its share of responsibility for refugees and I think it’s unfortunate – to put it as mildly as I possibly can – that we have closed our minds to that possibility, when other countries in Europe have taken a much more generous position,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Boxing Day.
“Research has shown in very, very clear and stark and frankly unpleasant terms that it’s children, above all, who are taking the brunt of the effects of the instability in Syria and that’s why we have an obligation.”
Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, told BBC Radio 4’s The World this Weekend that he expected the government to change its mind – either “willingly or unwillingly”.
“Clearly we can’t take all the refugees but we should play our part as an open-hearted, compassionate country,” he said.
“There’s real suffering and we need to do our bit along with the rest of the international community.”
Andrew Brigden, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, told The World this Weekend that he believed Mr Farage’s comments were “political tokenism”.
“You’re talking about a few hundred [people] out of a few million,” he said. “What criteria would we use to say who can come and who can’t?
“These are Syrian people who want to live in Syria. The solution is not taking a few hundred people to make us feel happier.
“What we need is a politically-negotiated solution to this problem.”
In a report released earlier this month, Amnesty International accused European Union leaders of “miserably failing” to provide a safe haven to Syrians.
Only 10 member states had offered to take in refugees and even then only 12,000, it complained.
Italy – like the UK – had offered no places at all, the organisation said.
More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the unrest began in Syria more than two years ago.