Britain should take in more refugees than the 4,000 a year proposed by David Cameron and accept people already in Europe, Yvette Cooper has said.
The Labour leadership candidate and shadow home secretary said the Prime Minister’s promise to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees by May 2020 drawn from camps around the war-torn country paled in comparison to historic British efforts.
Ms Cooper said the Government should speak to councils, charities and faith groups to assess how much help they are offering and then support them to deliver it, setting a target for how many people to take in one year.
If the country can and needs to take more refugees after that time then that should be assessed on an annual basis, she said.
Ms Cooper also demanded action to help those already in Europe, including from other conflict-ridden countries such as Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia and Libya.
She suggested the Government could fund the UNHCR to do asylum assessments in under-pressure European border countries like Greece and to offer to resettle to Britain some of those who qualify for refugee status.
Opening an emergency debate on the refugee crisis, Ms Cooper said: “The Prime Minister said yesterday that he would help up to 20,000 refugees over the five-year parliament.
“But the crisis is now and helping 4,000 refugees this year isn’t enough.
“Four thousand compared to the 24,000 in France, hundreds of thousands in Germany, 4,000 compared to our population of 60 million, 4,000 compared to the 10,000 we helped in just nine months under the Kindertransport, 4,000 compared to the 19,000 Vietnamese boat people who fled to Britain from the Vietcong and 4,000 compared to the 24,000 Kosovans that came to Britain in the late 90s.
“We can do more than this.”
Ms Cooper said: “This should actually be an opportunity for us to work with other European countries and to get other European countries to do more, both in terms of the aid that they should be providing, just as we do for the region itself, but also to do more to help the refugees
“Because this isn’t going away. The reason I think this is about responding with our heads and our hearts is because if we do nothing this problem is simply going to get worse.
“We cannot stand on the sidelines and watch while this happens, we cannot be the generation that turns our backs.
“We need a bigger plan.”
The efforts of volunteers around the country have shown that Britain wants to do more to help refugees and Parliament and the Government should reflect and aid that, Ms Cooper said.
“This is the kind of country we are, this is the best of Britain,” she said. “We have to now make this the best of the House of Commons as well by responding to that demand for help, to that demand for action and for our country to do so.”
Conservative David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate) said Britain could respond to calls from United Nations refugee agency the UNHCR to play a part in resettling 30,000 refugees by the end of 2016.
He said: “Look at what the UNHCR - who are the experts in the field - about what they are saying.
“They are saying that there have been pledges of over 100,000 places, they are saying it should be up to 130,000 across countries by the end of 2016.
“Surely if we then follow their approach and provide our part in that 30,000 by the end of 2016, that’s a real focus, and then wait for the Home Secretary to provide details of how we can quickly reboot the VPR (Vulnerable Persons Relocation) scheme to assess those children, the vulnerable people, to assess them and get them here as quickly as possible.”
Liberal Democrat former cabinet minister Alistair Carmichael described the Government’s distinction between refugees in Europe and those in camps bordering Syria “false” and “offensive”.
He said: “Is not this distinction between desperate people in one place who have made a journey and desperate people in another place who have yet to make a journey as false as it is offensive?
“Surely our contribution to helping people who are in need should be based on the need, not a decision they might have made in sheer desperation.”