September 4, 2015 / 11:44 AM / 2 years ago

UK's Cameron bows to pressure to take more Syrian refugees

LISBON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday that Britain would welcome "thousands more" Syrian refugees, after an outpouring of emotion over the image of a Syrian toddler lying dead on a Turkish beach put him under pressure to act.

Cameron, who spent two days refusing to commit Britain to taking in more migrants in response to a surge in numbers reaching Europe, gave no precise figure.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency told reporters in Geneva that Britain would offer 4,000 spaces for Syrian refugees.

Later in Madrid, Cameron said his government would spend another 100 million pounds ($152 million) on humanitarian aid, taking its total contribution to 1 billion pounds since 2012.

With Europe seemingly at a loss over how to cope with a huge increase in numbers of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa seeking safety or better lives, Cameron had previously said he did not think the answer was to take in more.

Many at home and abroad accused his government of being uncaring and inflexible, and several of his own Conservative legislators and the human rights chief of the Council of Europe urged Britain to welcome more refugees.

"Given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of people, today I can announce that we will do more in providing resettlement for thousands more Syrian refugees," Cameron told reporters in Lisbon after meeting his Portuguese counterpart.

About 5,000 Syrians who made their own way to Britain since the start of the war in their country have been granted asylum, and another 216 were brought to Britain under a U.N.-backed relocation scheme.

"We will accept thousands more under these existing schemes and we keep them under review," Cameron said, adding that the government would speak with humanitarian organisations and announce further details next week.

OTHERS MORE WELCOMING

Other European countries including Germany and Sweden have taken in far more refugees than Britain in recent times, and London declined to take part in a proposed EU scheme to allocate quotas to member states.

Germany alone expects 800,000 people to file for asylum this year. About 25,000 people applied for asylum in Britain in the 12 months to March, of whom two-fifths were granted some form of protection.

Cameron's announcement concerned only Syrians, the focus of popular anguish after the widespread publication of photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the toddler who drowned with his brother and mother as the family tried to cross from Turkey to Greece.

"We will continue with our approach of taking them (Syrian refugees) directly from refugee camps. This provides them with a more direct and safe route to the United Kingdom rather than risking the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many of their lives," Cameron said.

Cameron had on Wednesday insisted Britain was already doing its bit, not least by sending aid to Syrian refugee camps in the Middle East and dispatching the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean to help rescue migrants from unsafe boats.

Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Kevin Liffey and John Stonestreet

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