Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

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PRESS RELEASE: Harriet Harman tells Cameron we have a moral duty to act and take more refugees

Labour Leader also calls for emergency meetings with EU leaders and COBRA

Letter sent today from Harriet Harman MP, Interim Leader of the Labour Party, to David Cameron:


Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to you with regard to the worsening refugee crisis in Europe, and in particular your statement that you do not believe taking a few thousand refugees would solve the crisis.

This is now the worst humanitarian crisis to reach European shores since the Second World War. And its impact is being felt right across our country, from transport delays to small businesses being affected, not to mention widespread public concern about the crisis. You will, like me, have been appalled by the deeply distressing pictures of children drowned, and heard the stories of people suffocated to death in smugglers’ lorries.

We are all proud of Britain’s historical role of offering a sanctuary to those fleeing conflict and persecution. We are an outward-facing, generous-hearted nation, not one that turns inward and shirks its responsibilities. I know you will not want to be the Prime Minister of a Government that fails to offer sanctuary while our neighbours are stepping up to respond.

I disagree with the conclusion you appear to have drawn, that there is somehow a choice to be made between building stability in the region through greater humanitarian support, and playing our part in helping desperate refugees who have fled the horror in Syria. There isn’t. I strongly support the Government’s continued aid for the refugee camps in the region and agree with you that we need much tougher action against people trafficking, but it is clear now that we also have a moral duty to act to take in more of these people and help them to rebuild their lives.

As you know, Labour has been calling on the government to do more to help Syrian refugees for over 18 months, having first raised the issue in December 2013 and we also included a commitment to support Syrian refugees in our manifesto. It is now time for you to end the inertia and delay, and show some moral leadership and take proper action to alleviate this crisis.

Following the intervention of the Shadow Home Secretary, many local councils are looking now at what they could do to help. So too are community organisations. There is now a growing consensus that immigration and asylum should be separated and that whatever their views on immigration, they want Britain to do our bit to help refugees.

I am therefore asking you to do four things as a matter of urgency:

  • To agree now that Britain will take more refugees both directly from Syria and from the Southern European countries where most refugees have arrived
  • To convene an urgent meeting of EU leaders next week to agree a process for resolving the immediate refugee crisis on Europe’s borders
  • To convene an urgent meeting of COBRA so that a cross-government plan can be agreed and implemented. This is now a problem that spans beyond the Home Office, affecting transport, small business, tourism and our local communities. We urgently need ministers to come together and agree a plan
  • To bring together a summit of local authority leaders to agree what more can be done locally to support refugees and asylum seekers  - as you know many councils are keen to do more, but lack an agreed framework for doing so

I urge you to act swiftly and decisively. If you do so, please be assured that Labour stands ready to support you in any way we can. I look forward to your urgent response and, given the importance of this issue, I am releasing this letter to the media. 

Yours sincerely, 

Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP 

Leader of the Labour Party





Refugee crisis – timeline


December 2013


Jan 2014

  • Labour tabled a motion calling on the government to sign up to the UN resettlement programme for Syrian refugees
  • Govt announce they are setting up a parallel programme to resettle Syrian refugees – the ‘vulnerable persons’ relocation scheme’ – has only accepted 187 refugees. The PM made clear the total number allocated to the scheme would not exceed 1,000


Oct 2014

  • Tories quietly announced (in the Lords) that the UK would no longer support ‘search and rescue’ operations to prevent migrants drowning in the Med – ‘Mare Nostrum’ - citing it as a ‘pull factor’ for immigration
  • Yvette Cooper condemned the decision as morally wrong and demanded that the govt re-start search and rescue missions


April-May 2015

  • Labour again call on government to re-start rescue missions in the Mediterranean
  • David Cameron bows to pressure and agrees to re-start rescue missions
  • Labour includes a commitment in its manifesto “to ensure Britain continues its proud history of providing refuge for those fleeing persecution by upholding our international obligations, including working with the UN to support vulnerable refugees from Syria”


June 2015

  • Harriet Harman urges PM to do more on Syrian refugee crisis at PMQs

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