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Queen's Speech: UK government ignores responsibilities in face of biggest refugee crisis since WW2

Today’s Queen’s Speech made no reference to the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War - a result of the ongoing brutal conflict in Syria - despite including the claim that the Government will “continue to play a leading role in global affairs” Amnesty International said today.

The speech came on the same day as the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, presented further proposals in its European Agenda on Migration to deal with the Mediterranean migrant and refugee crisis. The EU announced an increase in the area in which “Triton” – the border control operation run by its border agency Frontex – can operate, as well as an increase in resources. This will go a significant way to closing the search-and-rescue gap in the Mediterranean - which emerged after Italy closed its more extensive search-and-rescue operation “Mare Nostrum” last autumn - Amnesty said. But while it is a welcome move, the reality is that lives will continue to be at risk and the UK government is currently failing to provide a leading role in dealing with this crisis.

A truly comprehensive approach to the crisis will require more safe and legal routes to be offered to those seeking international protection and full support across Europe for resettlement of Syrian refugees. Without this, people will continue to embark on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to Europe as a last resort.

The EU also proposed an emergency scheme to support Italy and Greece by relocating 40,000 of the Syrian and Eritrean asylum-seekers who have arrived since 15 April in these countries. Under the scheme, other EU member states will be asked to take a fair share of the responsibility for them.

Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee expert, said:

“The Queen’s Speech was a key opportunity to commit properly to addressing the migrant crisis on Europe’s borders. The UK government has provided support to the search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean in the form of boats and helicopters. But ministers have repeatedly emphasised the government’s determination not to participate in the EU’s plans to share responsibility for refugees. And while Syria's neighbours, such as Lebanon or Jordan, are hosting nearly four million Syrian refugees, the UK has resettled only 187 from the region.”

“The EU has presented a proposal on resettlement involving all member states. This is welcome, but the numbers proposed fall far short of what would be an adequate response. Moreover, it’s hard to see how the UK government can claim to be playing a leading role in global affairs when it is effectively refusing to share responsibility, with either countries in the region or our European partners, in response to the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.”

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