The Tories' immigration target means the door is still closed to too many Syrian refugees

The UK will accept just 500 refugees from the country, compared to the 10,000 taken by Germany.

Far later than it should have done, the coalition has announced that it will accept some refugees from Syria (as the NS urged it to do in a recent leader) ahead of today's Labour-tabled debate on the subject. Nick Clegg said last night: 

I am pleased to be able to announce that the UK will be providing refuge to some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. The coalition government wants to play our part in helping to alleviate the immense suffering in Syria.

The £600m we have provided makes us the second largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid in the world. But as the conflict continues to force millions of Syrians from their homes, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can.

We are one of the most open-hearted countries in the world and I believe we have a moral responsibility to help.

He added: "Britain has a long and proud tradition of provided refuge at times of crisis. This coalition government will ensure it lives on." 

Indeed; so what took ministers so long? The most likely explanation appears to be the Tories' dogmatic target (which is not officially coalition policy) to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year by the end of this parliament. The Independent reports that David Cameron "overruled objections" from Theresa May, who is determined to do everything possible to meet the pledge, in order to allow the door to be opened to refugees. "He realised that, although we are the good guys and the second largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syria in the world, we were in danger of looking like the villains," one source is quoted as saying. 

But while, as Ming Campbell said on the Today programme this morning, we shouldn't make "the best the enemy of the good", it is clear that the net migration target is still preventing ministers from going as far as they should (Germany has accepted 10,000). One reasonable solution proposed by May's shadow Yvette Cooper is for the Tories to exclude refugees from the target. She said last night: 

[M]inisters need to confirm that these will be additional places and will not be at the expense of help for other refugees. Finally it would be helpful for the Home Secretary to explain why ministers resisted for so long and to look urgently at removing refugees from the government’s net migration target. Immigration policy is very different from Britain’s long tradition of providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution and the two things should not be confused.

The dreadful conflict in Syria has caused a humanitarian crisis. As well as helping all those we can in the region, it is right that we also do our bit to provide the most desperate refugees with a place of safety.

Cooper also rightly urged ministers to reconsider their decision not to participate in the UN programme. 

The Government still needs to explain how the programme will work and whether they are signing up to the UNHCR programme or trying to run a parallel programme of their own. Given the considerable flexibility in the UN programme for countries to set their own priorities, numbers and security checks, the benefits of not running parallel bureaucracy and the value of being able to encourage other countries to follow suit, the Government would be best to sign up with the UN.

Ministers proudly point to the £600m of aid that Britain has provided, making it the second largest bilateral donor of aid in the world. But as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has said: "It is not only financial, econo­mic and technical support to these [neighbouring] states which is needed. It also includes receiving, through resettlement, humanitarian admission, family reunification or similar mechanisms, refugees who are today in the neighbouring countries but who can find a solution outside the region."

But when one hears Tory MPs such as Brooks Newmark, who indulged in shameless scaremongering on Today this morning by claiming that the UK has been asked to take "30,000 refugees" (the total number the UN has asked western countries to accept) and who moaned that Britain always does "the heavy lifting" (in fact, it is developing countries that accept the most refugees), it becomes clear why Cameron's hands are tied. 

A Syrian refugee child looks out from a shelter in Hatay, Turkey, on January 20, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How gendered are this year’s most popular Christmas present toys?

Meet the groups fighting back against the gendering of children’s toys over the festive season.

You’re a young girl. You go into WH Smith’s to pick out a colouring book for Christmas. You could buy the Girls’ World Doodling and Colouring Book, a "gorgeous gift for any girl". In this, the pictures range "from flowers, fans, feathers, to birds, buttons and butterflies". Or Colouring for Girls: Pretty Pictures to Colour and Complete, where you can colour in "beautiful birds, seashells, cupcakes, pretty patterns and lots more". The counterpart Boys’ Colouring Book has a range beyond buttons and feathers: "Planes, trains and automobiles – plus the odd alien spacecraft".

In the run-up to Christmas, this kind of gendered marketing is rife, particularly finding its way into the predominantly pink colour scheme of girls’ toys.

Take Amazon’s page "2016 Toys for Girls": a pink icecream trolly set, a pink light-up tablet, pink building blocks, pink and purple friendship bracelets and so on.

There are several groups taking action against the "pinkification" of children’s toys. One of these is Let Toys Be Toys, a group that targets large supermarkets with the aim of reducing the gendered marketing used on children’s goods.

The Let Toys Be Toys blog focuses on specific examples of targeted gendering within shops, catalgoues and online. A particularly revealing example of how prevalent this has become in recent years is in two pictures published from the Argos catalogue, one from the Seventies, and one from nowadays. The eye-wateringly pink page from now makes the 1970s page look dour by comparison. The lack of change over four decades of what kind of products are marketed at girls is equally striking:

Despite the efforts of campaign groups such as Let Toys Be Toys, the prevalence of gendering within the highest-rated children's gifts for 2016 is staggering.

Look no further than the Ultimate Christmas Gifts Guide from Toys R Us. One of the most immediately obvious examples is the way in which the pink/blue colour schemes are used to market identical products. This is repeated again and again:

This identical drawing board is uniquely packaged to the binary colour codes that are so common within children's toys stores.

The same applies with this keyboard, where the young girl and boy are pictured almost identically, save for the coordination of their clothes to the colour of their toys.

The message is a hugely limiting one: one that allows little movement away from the binary of pink/blue. The effects of this are longstanding. A recent poll from YouGov shows that "only a third of parents approve of boys playing with Barbies". The data goes on to explain that "while most parents approve of girls playing with toys marketed to boys, a minority of adults approve of the opposite".

Images like this were the inspiration behind Let Toys Be Toys, back in 2012. The campaign began on Mumsnet, the forum for parents, on a section called "AIBU", which stands for "Am I Being Unreasonable?". One parent posted the question: "Am I being unreasonable to think that the gendered way that children’s toys are marketed has got completely out of hand?" The heated discussion that followed led to a sub-section with the founding memebers of Let Toys Be Toys.

This aside, Let Toys Be Toys has made signifcant progess since it began. It targets large stores, focusing on gendered signage both in store and online. In their four years, they have campaigned for signs like "girls' toys" and "boys' toys" to be removed from retailers such as Boots, Debenhams, Morrisons, Toys R Us and TK Maxx. It is the go-to hashtag on Twitter for examples of the often shocking gendering of children’s toys.

"This is ostensibly about toys, but what we’re really talking about is gender stereotypes that shape our children’s worlds in an apparently very unassuming way," says Jess Day, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner. "It seems very innocent, but actually what we’re doing is giving children very clear instructions about how to be a man and how to be a woman."

These clear instructions work beyond colour coordination: where girls are sold the image of the pink "girly girl", for instance. This is evident in children’s fancy dress costumes. Early Learning Centre’s (ELC) children’s fancy dress range imposes very rigid gender roles. To give examples from the current christmas range:


Credit: ELC

Again, the predominant colour sceme is pink. The roles offered are mainly fairies and princessess: generally make-believe.

“I found it really interesting that there were almost no ads showing girls doing anything," comments Day. "Physically they were very passive. The only physical activity we saw girls doing was dancing. They weren't really moving around much."


Image: ELC

By contrast, young boys are offered the possibility of pretending to be a firefighter, a policeman or a doctor, among other practical, professional roles.

This year's Toys R Us Christmas advert follows on from this, with girls mainly dressed as princesses, and boys dressed as knights and kings. Much like the pink/blue colour scheme that we see all over children's shops, these fancy dress costumes create an unnatural binary. They send out a message that restricts any kind of subversion of these two supposedly polar opposites.

What's more, the subtext is one that is deeply rooted in expectations, building up a picture where careers such as that of a policeman and fireman come more naturally to boys, who have been socialised into these roles from childhood through fancy dress costumes of this type. Instead, girls are later forced to learn that most of us aren't going to become princessess, and none of us fairies – and so the slow process begins to unlearn these expectations.

There are certainly groups who try to counteract this. Manufacturers such as the toy brand IamElemental aims to break down the gendered distinctions between boys' toys and girls' toys, by creating female action figures.

“We always say that we are not anti-doll or anti-princess, but that if you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story," says Julie Kershaw, a member of the organisation. "As the mom of two boys, I always say that it’s just as important to put a strong healthy female action figure in a boy’s hand as it is a girl’s”.

Like the campaigners behind Let Toys Be Toys, IamElemental sees children’s toys as the starting point.

“We want kids – both girls and boys  – to internalise these messages early and often,” says Kershaw. “While there are certainly biological differences between girls and boys, gender-specific toys are not a biologically dictated truth. Toys are not “for girls” or “for boys”  – toys are for play; for exploration and creative expression.”

This attitude is ingrained in a child’s early years. Only through reconfiguring the gender sterotypes of the toys we buy for our children can we begin to break down their expectations of how to behave in age. We challenge you this Christmas to avoid these highly gendered products. Below are our three favourite Christmas presents for children this year, for girls AND boys, as approved by Let Toys Be Toys:

Mini Table Tennis (£7.99)


From: The Little Toy Box

Djeco Intro to Origami - Animals (£3.99)

From: Rachel's Toy Shop

Seedling Make Your Own Dino Softie! - Dino(sew)or Kit (£5)


From: Gifts For Little Ones