Ukip’s Nigel Farage shocks own party with call to let in Syrian refugees
Leader’s call for UK to honour the spirit of UN convention prompts accusations he is out of touch with party following.
The government has rejected a call by Nigel Farage for Britain to “honour the spirit” of a 1951 UN convention and allow Syrian refugees into the country.
In an unlikely reversal of roles, the government responded to the Ukip leader, who has been campaigning against immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, by saying that Britain has no plans to accept Syrian refugees and would instead focus its efforts on providing humanitarian aid.
Farage told the BBC: “I think refugees are a very different thing to economic migration and I think that this country should honour the spirit of the 1951 declaration on refugee status. 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. I think actually there is a responsibility on all of us in the free west to try and help some of those people in Syria fleeing in fear of their lives.”
The intervention by Farage prompted an angry response on Ukip’s Facebook page. Ross Gavin wrote: “You better start rethinking some of your views on Syrian refugees before showing up for this one Nigel. You might not find yourself quite so popular this time.” James Read wrote: “Beginning to think you’re just another out-of-touch politician. Recently you come across that you haven’t got a clue about what’s going on here.”
Farage made his call days after David Cameron joined forces with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to endorse a £4bn UN appeal after a warning that nearly three-quarters of the Syrian population would need help in 2014. The three leaders said that the fate of a generation of Syrian children hangs in the balance after figures show that 4 million young people are suffering as the conflict enters its third year.
The government said it would focus its efforts on providing humanitarian help to Syrian refugees in the region rather than welcoming them to Britain. A spokesperson said: “The UK has no plans to resettle or provide temporary protection to Syrians. Instead, we are giving as much help as possible to people in the region.
“We are one of the highest international donors to the Syrian relief effort – the £500m pledged so far is more than any other EU member state. We are supporting the Regional Protection Programme, which provides help close to the country of origin. Any claim for asylum is considered on its individual merits and in line with the immigration rules.”
But António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, told the Guardian this year that western countries such as Britain and the US may be asked to accept tens of thousands of refugees. He said: “If things go on for a prolonged period of time, then resettlement will become a central part of our strategy. We would like when the time comes … to be able to launch a resettlement programme as massive as the one for Iraqis.”
Farage’s support for Syrian refugees may find him warming to Bulgaria, which is straining to cope with the arrival of refugees from the country. Around 6,500 Syrian refugees have arrived in Bulgaria this year, according to the New York Times, putting a strain on the resources of the poorest member of the EU.