Keir Starmer

Letter to the Prime Minister about the refugee crisis

Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron from Keir Starmer MP, Tulip Siddiq MP and Catherine West MP on the current refugee crisis

The Prime Minister Must Offer More than Words on the Refugee Crisis. Here is the Practical Action that is Necessary.


Rt Hon David Cameron MP

10 Downing Street




Dear Prime Minister,

We believe the refugee crisis currently facing Europe demands urgent action.  All member states of the EU must look beyond their borders to address wider, global issues.  But Europe – far from rising up to this challenge – is turning in on itself.

Britain, given our history, is well-placed to take the lead in drawing up an international response to this issue. We boast a long and proud tradition of helping those most in need.

Regrettably, to date, your Government has not conducted itself in a way which is in keeping with this proud tradition.

Next week, other EU member states will meet to discuss plans to revise the current 1990 “Dublin Protocol” for asylum seekers – under which asylum seekers should be processed in the first EU country they reach – to see whether the burden could be shared more equitably by member states outside the periphery.

Britain is refusing to participate on the grounds that we are not part of the Schengen shared border agreement – a dubious excuse that conflates two separate issues.

But our failure to engage with our European partners runs far deeper than this. Britain consistently grants asylum to considerably fewer foreign nationals than most other EU states. To help alleviate the pressures caused by the nearly four million refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has set up an international programme, with a quota system, so that developed countries can equitably share in the burden.  Britain – instead opting to operate our own separate programme – has persistently refused to sign up to the scheme. Just 1,000 Syrians, at the very most, will be granted asylum under our schemes – a fraction of the tens of thousands whom Germany and others have helped.

And we have turned a blind eye to the often dismal, appalling conditions which refugees have had to endure. For those refugees who attempt seaborne access into Europe across the Mediterranean, the journey can often be treacherous and fatal.

The EU has withdrawn funding for a search and rescue operation to help those in need, and put in place a more limited operation in its stead. Britain has been silent on this issue. This says nothing of the treatment of those refugees who succeed in reaching Europe’s borders: many are subject to appalling conditions and given little support whilst they apply for asylum – support which Britain is due to cut still further from those rejected for asylum, effectively denying them the opportunity to appeal.

This needs to stop.

The Government’s current position on this issue is contributing to the very crisis we are facing. The tragic, human effects of this were made all too clear on the front covers of Wednesday’s papers. They will continue to occur unless Britain plays its full part.

We are calling on the British Government to push, internationally, for a number of practical actions to be taken to address this crisis.

We should join with our EU partners in reviewing the Dublin Protocol. Given the pressures this is causing for peripheral EU states, it is paramount that we explore whether other member states could more equally share in the pressures caused by the refugee crisis.

As part of this, we must also conduct a broader, EU-wide review of the all the current international arrangements for refugees. This must include funding appropriate search and rescue operations, and addressing any and all concerns about their treatment on European soil.

Finally, in line with other member states, we must also take our fair share of those affected by this crisis. Britain’s full participation in the UNHCR programme for Syria’s refugees must be part of this.

Tulip Siddiq MP (Hampstead and Kilburn); Keir Starmer QC, MP (Holborn and St Pancras); Catherine West MP (Hornsey and Wood Green)