But the recent images of a three-year-old Syrian boy, tragically drowned during the treacherous crossing from Turkey, marks a desperate new low in an already devastating humanitarian crisis.
So we have now pledged £1 billion of humanitarian aid in response to the crisis in Syria and we have already provided shelter and security to 5,000 Syrian refugees through regular asylum procedures. But in the face of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, we have chosen to go even further.
We lead Europe in giving aid overseas, but last week we fell behind Europe in giving shelter to those seeking refuge from a terror that has forced them to gamble with their lives to escape. As a nation we were in a position to offer sanctuary to refugees in greater number and I wrote to the Prime Minister to that effect.
As a result, we have now announced that we will resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees during the course of this Parliament. This is an approach that is as much about the ‘head’ as it is the ‘heart’. Those we offer refuge to will come directly from the camps in and around Syria and the Middle East to discourage refugees from taking the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean that has cost so many their lives in recent months.
We are also committed to tackling the root causes of this disaster. As a nation, our international aid budget (as a percentage of our GDP) is higher than any other G20 member state, and we give more to developing countries – in real terms – than any other nation in the world, except for the USA. Alongside welcoming new refugees, we must urge our European partners to match this commitment to see a more stable world.
We must also play a leading role in pushing for action through the EU and UN to tackle the causes of illegal immigration, not least the organised trafficking gangs that are behind much of it.
Giving refuge is only part of the solution to this crisis. We need a comprehensive strategy that deals with the people most responsible for the terrible scenes we see: be it Assad in Syria, ISIS and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people – we have to be as tough on them at the same time.
The United Kingdom has a proud tradition for providing shelter to those in need, and has always been a bastion of liberty, security and tolerance and ever may that be.