Britain has 'moral responsibility' to shelter Syrian refugees

A Syrian refugee and his son walk next to a nearly-constructed sidewalk, at Zaatari camp, near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Fighting in Syria has killed more than 130,000 people and left millions of refugees, either in camps or squats in neighboring countries or within Syria's borders. The economy has been devastated, and bombs and gunfire have ruined once-thriving cities. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

Dozens of church leaders have called upon Britain to carry out its "moral responsibility" to shelter more refugees from the conflict in Syria.

The 48 leaders, who come from a variety of Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, and United Reformed churches across the UK, made the plea in an open letter to David Cameron.

They acknowledge the significant role the UK is playing in providing funding and aid for refugees now living in the countries immediately around Syria.

"We are glad to be a part of a country which is willing to spend a significant resource in caring for refugees in this most terrible of crises," says the letter.

Reverend John Howard, Chair of Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury's Methodist District, a signatory of the letter said: "We are proud of Britain's long heritage of welcoming refugees."

However, the letter also criticises the low number of Syrian refugees being allowed into the UK.

"We have an ethical duty to honour this tradition and play our part in caring for those displaced by this terrible conflict," said Mr Howard.

The UK Government initially refused to take in any Syrian refugees, insisting instead that the correct response was to provide aid. However, last month the UK government agreed with the UN that it would house 500 Syrian refugees.

Other countries have taken in more, the letter notes, with Norway taking in 1,000 refugees, and Germany giving shelter to 10,000.

More than two million people have fled Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who has estimated that 30,000 refugees are particularly vulnerable and require permanent residency in European countries.

The letter urges the UK to increase the numbers of refugees being accepted to a number "appropriate to the size of our country" and "proportionate with these countries", suggesting that if Germany and Norway are able to take more, the UK should follow suit.

"It is our view that the extension of hospitality goes beyond financial and that there is a moral responsibility upon us as part of the international community to resettle a small but significant number of refugees fleeing Syria," the church leaders state.

"We believe that it is an ethical duty for us as a responsible country to accept our part in the caring for these people."

In seeking to allay the fears of those who regard asylum and immigration as a long-term problem in the UK, the letter argues that "following a major conflict it is usually the case that most refugees are able to return to their homes and most desire to do so".

"It is a small proportion who, as a result of experiences they have suffered or threats to their safety, are unable to return."

The UK aid operation in Syria has been previously described by the UK Government as "the largest single funding commitment ever made by the UK in response to a humanitarian disaster".

At the end of January, the total donated stood at approximately £600 million pounds.