LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron pledged on Monday to take in up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, responding to public clamour for his government to help those fleeing civil war in the country.
“We are proposing that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refuges over the rest of this parliament. In doing so, we will continue to show the world that this country is a country of extraordinary compassion,” he told parliament.
Cameron has been under pressure from the media and his European counterparts to take in far more refugees to help with the wider migrant crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousand of people arrive in mainland Europe.
Even British newspapers generally hostile to increased migration last week called on Cameron to let in more refugees after featuring pictures of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach on their front pages.
The 20,000 Syrian refugees Britain will now accept is still far below the numbers being taken by some other European countries. Germany expects to receive around 800,000 refugees and migrants this year.
Britain has so far taken in only 216 Syrian refugees under a U.N.-backed relocation scheme. About 5,000 other Syrians who have made their own way to Britain have been granted asylum.
A survey published late on Monday showed that most Britons did not want greater numbers of refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria and Libya.
Only 40 percent of people polled by ComRes for the BBC said Britain should let in more refugees than it does currently, compared with 57 percent who want the same number or fewer.
Nearly two-thirds of Britons said the image of the drowned toddler should not influence migration policy, and made it harder to take a rational approach.
Cameron said the refugees would be taken from camps in Syria and neighbouring countries. Since 2011, millions of Syrians have been displaced by civil war, with more than 4 million ending up in refugee camps in surrounding countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
“We will continue with our approach of taking refugees from the camps and from elsewhere in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon,” he said. “This provides refugees with a more direct and safe route to the United Kingdom.”
Additional reporting by William James and Kate Holton, editing by Stephen Addison, Larry King