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3 September 2015

Where Corbyn stands on the refugee crisis

The Labour leadership frontrunner calls for the UK to "offer a place of safety" but won't give a figure. 

By George Eaton

Yvette Cooper led the political response to the refugee crisis with her passionate and forensic speech on Monday. The Labour leadership candidate called for the government to accept 10,000 under its vulnerable persons relocation shame, rather than the 216 welcomed to date. But where does her rival Jeremy Corbyn stand? The Labour leadership frontrunner has issued a statement today, denouncing the government’s “shameful” response. He said: 

Nobody could fail to be moved by this heartbreaking crisis. Millions are desperately fleeing a terrible civil war, risking their lives and the lives of their children to seek only the most basic sanctuary.

This government’s response has been shameful. David Cameron must shoulder his responsibility and begin urgent talks with our European neighbours and the UN so that the UK takes its fair share of refugees. He should immediately bring together civil society and religious leaders, devolved administrations, councils and charities to properly plan and co-ordinate our humanitarian response.

It is our duty as a signatory to the UN refugee convention, but also as human beings, to offer a place of safety, to play a role internationally, to share our responsibilities, and to work to end the conflict. We must also make sure that people who have risked their lives seeking refuge here are treated fairly when they arrive.

Currently we are failing on all of these counts. This is far too serious to keep getting wrong. As a first step, we must urgently pool our expertise and resources to plan a proper humanitarian response.

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In the longer term we must stop supplying the arms fuelling the conflicts which the refugees are fleeing and take meaningful action to tackle climate change and the very serious implications this will have on refugee flows if left unaddressed.

Of note is Corbyn’s emphasis that it is the UK’s duty “as a signatory to the UN refugee convention” to aid those in need. The Council of Europe has suggested in a statement published this afternoon that Britain could be in breach of its “legal” as well as “moral” obligations. Unlike Cooper, Corbyn does not give a suggested figure. An aide told me that he would “not be going there”. His desire not to be bound to an arbitrary number is perhaps wise. Would 10,000 be sufficient when Germany is prepared to accept 800,000? 

Corbyn’s authority on this issue is enhanced by his pro-asylum voting record. As some of his supporters are highlighting, Cooper and Andy Burnham have consistently voted for a stricter system.