MP's Column

I want to thank the many people who have contacted me regarding the Middle East refugee crisis. News reports, showing the plight of refugees in their desperate attempt to cross the Mediterranean to reach European shores, continue to shock and sadden us and we naturally want to help. The Arab Spring, that many welcomed as an opportunity for oppressed people to secure democracy for their countries, has led to the greatest refugee crisis since records began.

Since 2011, in Syria alone, 4m refugees have fled and found shelter, often in refugee camps, in neighbouring countries. However, these camps are now crowded and underfunded and as the conflict has dragged on refugees are losing hope of returning home. The same is true for people fleeing other conflict areas such as Afghanistan and Somalia.

As a result, in this year alone, about 270,000 people have reached European shores. Others have lost their lives in the attempt.

The UK has not been slow to help. £920 million of the UK Aid Budget has been used to support the refugee camps. Thousands of the most vulnerable refugees have been housed and cared for in the UK and our Navy has rescued nearly 7,000 people from the Mediterranean. As the crisis deepens it is right that we increase the aid given to the refugee camps. Improving the conditions of refugees in the Middle East has to be the most effective way to meet people at their point of need and to tackle this crisis. I also believe we share a moral responsibility to receive asylum seekers and receiving refugees directly from the camps is the responsible approach. The Royal Navy will continue to assist the Italian-led search and rescue effort until somehow the international effort takes away the need for families to risk the treacherous crossing of the Mediterranean.

There is a refugee crisis, so more must be done. Thousands of innocent refugees are in peril and more people than ever need help. Yet, until recently, wealthy countries seemed reluctant to help. Hopefully the images we continue to see on our screens will trigger the united international response that is so desperately needed.

Derek Thomas

Member of Parliament for St Ives