Guardian News and Media/London
A fundamental review of Britain’s £9bn aid budget will be used to fund Syrian refugees for their first year in the UK and to support Syria’s neighbours hosting camps, George Osborne has said.
As David Cameron prepares to brief MPs today on the government’s plans to admit thousands of extra refugees, the chancellor said the UK would focus on admitting Syrian orphans.
He declined to say how many refugees the government would take, after the Sunday Times reported the figure could be as high as 15,000. He indicated, however, that the government is minded to take several thousand and may even come close to the EU demand of 18,000.
In an interview on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, Osborne also confirmed that the government is unlikely to table a Commons vote on extending airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq to Syria unless it wins Labour support. This suggests that the government will be wary of holding the vote in the event of Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership contest .
The chancellor confirmed that the government had embarked on a rethink of its strategy towards Syrian refugees after the publication of the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned as his family sought to make the perilous journey from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos. He likened the image to the photograph of a young girl fleeing a Nepalm attack during the Vietnam war.
Osborne said the government would use increases in Britain’s £9bn overseas aid budget, which rises automatically in line with UN commitments as the economy grows, to support the extra refugees who come to Britain and to help Syria’s neighbours fund camps.
The prime minister will confirm to MPs that the government is to relax the criteria for the vulnerable persons relocation scheme which has so far admitted only 216 people to the UK. The current criteria are so strict that refugees can only be admitted if they have fled their homes as victims of torture, sexual violence or are too elderly or disabled to survive in a camp.
The chancellor said: “Britain is going to approach this crisis with a head as well as a heart. In the short term we are going to take more refugees, but not in a way that encourages them onto these dangerous boats. In the longer term we need a fundamental rethink of our aid policy. So yes, we support reducing poverty but we also direct our additional aid spending to these failed states, to this refugee crisis, to the big threats facing Britain.”
Osborne said the government would break new ground by using the aid budget to support refugees in their first year in the UK. He 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 chancellor said the government is keen to provide particular help for orphaned children. “There is a particular challenge with orphaned children. Everyone understands the human tragedy involved there. I think we have to look at what we can do for those children in need. There has been an outpouring of grief, as you might expect in Britain, towards those children.
“We have got to have, as a country and we owe it to these people, a comprehensive plan that doesn’t just say OK we are going to deal with the problem in the railway station at Budapest. You have got to go to the cause of the problem. You have got to try and deter people making this desperately dangerous journey obviously for a better like for themselves and their families but putting their lives at risk in the process.”
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