THOUSANDS of Britons are mobilising to aid migrants camped in Calais and offering their homes to Syrian refugees but local councils have warned about the costs of resettling new arrivals.
At a collection point in London for “CalAid”, a group set up just a month ago and one of many crowdfunded initiatives, volunteers formed a human chain to carry donations including shoes, blankets and tinned food.
“We can give people their dignity back,” the group’s 39-year-old founder James Fisher said, explaining that he had initially planned a single carload of supplies for the migrant camp in Calais.
The group has now raised more than £132,000 (180,000 euros, $200,000) online and has collected tons of supplies - so many that it has to rent a warehouse in Calais to allow for more even distribution.
Amplified by online petitions and social media campaigns, the groundswell of compassion has grown after the images of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach were widely published on social and traditional media.
“Over the last few days, it’s just gone absolutely crazy,” said Ruth Forecast, a 63-year-old music teacher and coordinator of the Malvern Welcomes Syrian Refugees group in western England.
“There have been so many people in our area who really want to help,” said Forecast, who has been campaigning her local council for months to take in refugees under an existing relocation scheme.
- ‘Short-term reaction’ -
An appeal for volunteers by the campaign groups Avaaz and Citizens UK has garnered more than 5,000 signatories, including many Britons who are offering their spare rooms to house Syrian refugees.
A petition to parliament for Britain to accept more asylum seekers has reached more than 400,000 signatures- four times the number for the issue to be considered for a debate in parliament.
Over 2,000 Britons have also offered to house refugees in their homes in a database set up by Zoe Fritz, a doctor whose relatives were among the children who came to Britain in a mass evacuation from Nazi Germany.
Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday said Britain will take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees directly from UN refugee camps along the border over the next five years—a dramatic turnaround from past policy.
Avaaz campaign director Sam Barratt said Cameron was “finally responding to the massive public outcry”.
“The offer to take 20,000 Syrians is welcome but Britain needs to take that desperate group now, not over five years and play a strong part in resolving the refugee crisis in Europe,” he said.
The government says it has accepted nearly 5,000 Syrian asylum requests since the conflict there began in 2011, as well as being the second biggest aid donor in the Syrian crisis after the United States.
But only 216 Syrians were brought to Britain by July this year under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, a special programme set up in January last year and intended to bring up to 1,000 people.
Campaigners have blamed bureaucratic delays and financial concerns as the government only pays for the first 12 months of the refugees’ stay, with cash-strapped councils left to fund the rest.
Several local councils have now come forward with offers to host dozens of refugees and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that Scotland will accept 1,000 people “as a starting point”.
But the Local Government Association on Monday said it wanted a commitment from government to provide “full funding” for the refugees until they are granted asylum or return to their country.
“Local communities that open their doors at a moment of crisis should not be left to pick up the pieces when funding runs out and the world’s attention has moved on,” it said in a statement.
Mohammed, a Syrian living in Bradford, was one of the lucky few to have been brought to Britain last year under the special government scheme.
He is now campaigning for his new home to take in more of his compatriots.
“I find that the English people are happy to receive more Syrian refugees,” said Mohammed, who is working on the campaign by the Avaaz group and Citizens UK.
The 20-year-old, who came with his mother and two brothers, is learning English and preparing for exams normally taken by 16-year-olds in Britain.
“It’s not about 100 or 200, 1,000 or 2,000, the number is unlimited,” he said.