Britain is to take in some of the “most vulnerable” Syrian refugees, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Wednesday, in a move that was welcomed by aid agencies as “long overdue.”
“I am pleased to be able to announce today that the UK will be providing refuge to some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees,” said Clegg.
That included women at risk of sexual violence, the elderly, torture survivors and people with disabilities.
“We are one of the most open-hearted countries in the world and I believe we have a moral responsibility to help,” he added.
He did not say how many refugees Britain would accept, but a spokeswoman for his office said “hundreds” were likely to be taken on a case-by-case basis in co-operation with the United Nations.
“We're not going to be putting a finite number on this,” she said.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government has been under pressure from aid agencies and the Labour opposition party to take in some of the around 2.3 million people who have fled the civil war in Syria.
Previously it had argued that Britain was fulfilling its obligations be donating 600 million pounds (996 million dollars) in aid to Syria, the second largest amount from any country, but last week Prime Minister David Cameron said he was ready to reconsider his position.
Britain's support was appreciated but it should “correspond to its rhetoric” and the country should do more to help refugees in the camps, Walid Safour, the representative of the Syrian National Coalition in London, told dpa.
“The role of the UK should be bigger on all sides,” he said.
“We have had good many words from the UK over the past three years, but ... this doesn't materialise in action. What is the benefit of having 300 refugees?” Kate Allen, UK director of human rights group Amnesty International, said: “This move is long overdue but of course it's never too late to do the right thing.”
“It was a never a matter of choosing between helping refugees in the region or helping refugees in this country - and it's an enormous relief that the government has finally changed its mind on this,” she continued.
Most of the 28 EU states have refused to take Syrian refugees. Spain has agreed to take just 30, while France has agreed to accept 500.
Germany has been the most generous, offering to take 10 000 refugees. - Sapa-dpa