David Cameron is to set out details of the government’s plans to resettle thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria and Islamic State militants as parliament reconvenes after the summer recess.
The UK prime minister – who will give full details in a House of Commons statement on Monday afternoon – was effectively forced to act after harrowing photographs of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Mediterranean beach galvanised public opinion.
Cameron previously argued that taking in refugees would simply encourage more people to risk the hazardous sea crossing to Europe, which has already claimed thousands of lives.
The Sunday Times reported that 10,000-15,000 refugees would be admitted to Britain as the government expands the vulnerable persons relocation scheme that has so far given sanctuary to just 216 people.
The chancellor, George Osborne, on Sunday answered critics who said Britain was acting less generously than Germany, which is on course to admit 800,000 people this year, by saying the prime minister will outline far-reaching plans to help the refugees.
Osborne said the international aid budget would be used to help with refugees’ housing and living costs in the first year of their stay in Britain. Ministers said this had been done before and counted as overseas development assistance, the OECD’s measure of aid spending.
Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, Osborne said: “The foreign aid budget can provide the support in the first year for these refugees, could help the local councils with things like housing costs. We will deploy the foreign aid budget to help with the costs of these refugees.”
The review of the aid budget will also include a big expansion of its reserve, known as the conflict, stability and security fund. This will allow for a more flexible response to a crisis, though aid groups will seek to ensure that the reserve, which is administered by the Foreign Office, is not used to subsidise defence spending on targeting Islamic State forces in Iraq.
The government said the change in aid spending would not undermine traditional projects in tackling poverty in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa. They are protected under the existing £12bn annual budget.
He made clear that the UK would take refugees from Syria’s neighbouring countries as the government relaxes the criteria for the vulnerable persons relocation scheme. The scheme is currently available only to victims of torture or sexual violence and to elderly or disabled people who are unable to survive in a refugee camp.
The government is exercising its right under the Lisbon treaty not to take part in a planned European commission quota scheme under which Britain would take 18,000 refugees, though the prime minister said he would act within the spirit of the EU.
Osborne stressed that the refugee programme could only be one element in a wider plan to address the root causes of the refugee crisis, with action to tackle the “evil” regime of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, as well as the jihadis of Isis.
Ministers are to begin making the case to extend RAF airstrikes against Isis in Iraq and join the US and other allies in attacking them in their heartlands inside Syria.
Cameron has repeatedly said he would only intervene militarily in Syria if there was a consensus across parliament in favour of action.
Analysis - by Sam Jones
How will the government pay for the “thousands more” Syrian refugees the UK has pledged to take?
On Sunday, the chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the government would use funds from the UK’s £12bn annual overseas aid budget to help local authorities cover the costs of housing refugees.
He said: "
The foreign aid budget that we have can provide the support for the first year for these refugees, to help the local councils with things like housing costs.
We will deploy the foreign aid budget to help with the costs of these refugees. We have got a £12bn aid budget, we spend £250m on countries like Syria, Jordan and Turkey. We have got to have a fundamental re-think of how we are using this budget."
Can the government spend overseas aid money at home?
Although the rules governing the use of overseas aid – known as official development assistance (ODA) – are strict, there is provision for domestic expenditure under some circumstances.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):
"Assistance to refugees in developing countries is reportable as ODA. Temporary assistance to refugees from developing countries arriving in donor countries is reportable as ODA during the first 12 months of stay, and all costs associated with eventual repatriation to the developing country of origin are also reportable."
Does the UK’s overseas aid money go on anything else at home?
Yes. A Guardian analysis in February revealed that some UK aid money is actually spent here: in 2012, almost £12m went on projects such as global citizenship lessons in Scottish schools; military and security training for African officials; and a “study visit” to the UK for North Korean officials.
Why does the UK have such a large overseas aid budget?
In April last year, the UK became one of only a handful of European countries (the others being Luxembourg, Sweden and Denmark) to achieve the 45-year-old UN target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income as aid to poorer nations.
How is the chancellor’s announcement likely to play out?
The political push to get the 0.7% commitment enshrined in law at a time of financial crisis and austerity was not easy. A handful of Tory backbenchers attempted to derail the bill, with one memorably describing it as “a handout to make a few middle class, Guardian-reading, sandal-wearing, lentil-eating do-gooders with a misguided guilt complex feel better about themselves”. Ukip also opposed the move. In their 2015 election manifesto, the party pledged to slash Britain’s overseas aid spending by more than two-thirds and abolish the “wasteful” DfID. Given the government’s controversial decision to ringfence DfID’s budget at a time of austerity and swingeing cuts across Whitehall, Osborne’s announcement may go some way to placating opponents who question the need to spend so much abroad and congregate around the maxim that “charity begins at home”.
What does DfID say?
The international development secretary, Justine Greening, said she welcomed the news and pointed out that Britain has already spent more than £1bn on trying to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the surrounding region.
Greening said that DfID and the Treasury were going to “fundamentally review” spending to make sure that “every additional pound goes towards addressing the global challenges that impact on Britain, like the crisis we’ve seen unfold on Europe’s borders”.
SOURCE: The Guardian, 07/09/2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/07/david-cameron-refugee-crisi...