LONDON The Labour party on Wednesday called on the government to join a U.N. programme to help resettle the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, putting pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to fall into line with other Western states.
While Cameron's government is the second biggest donor of humanitarian aid to Syria, it has not joined an initiative led by the United Nations' refugee agency which asks European and other states to accept a share of 30,000 Syrians displaced by the country's civil war and now in refugee camps in the region.
Britain has granted around 1,500 Syrian nationals asylum in the last year, but has not agreed to take cases directly from the camps. Eighteen countries, including France and Germany, have so far joined the scheme.
Labour called a vote on the issue to be held next week. They said this would mean accepting a "few hundred" refugees, including torture victims and orphans, which compares to some 500 admissions pledged by France so far under the scheme.
"It is important we see some more movement from the prime minister to help some people who are in truly a desperate situation," a Labour spokesman said.
U.N. data shows the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 130,000, has also created around 2.3 million refugees.
The Syrian government and opposition met for the first time on Wednesday at a conference in Switzerland which U.N. officials hoped would lead to peace negotiations, but there was little sign that any party was ready to make concessions.
Asked about joining the U.N scheme by Labour party leader Ed Miliband, Cameron said he did not believe that accepting a few hundred people would solve a crisis on the scale of Syria's, and that Britain was fulfilling its moral obligations.
However he added that he could be prepared to do more in the cases of the most vulnerable refugees, particularly those where children were involved, but his office was unable to provide any further details.
"If there are very difficult cases of people who don't belong in refugee camps, who have been either disabled by these dreadful attacks, or are in very difficult circumstances, then I'm happy for us to look at that argument," Cameron said.
(Reporting by William James; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)