More than 120 leading economists, among them former government, UN and World Bank officials, have lambasted the UK government’s response to the refugee crisis, calling it seriously inadequate, morally unacceptable and economically wrong.
In an open letter to David Cameron, the economists argue that as the world’s fifth-largest economy, the UK “can do far more” and are calling on the government to take a “fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within the EU and those still outside it”.
They are also calling for safe and legal routes to and within the EU, including the UK, and “fair and thorough procedures to determine eligibility for international protection wherever it is sought”.
The economists, who include Mark Malloch-Brown, a former UN deputy secretary general and government minister, and Peter Sutherland, the former director general of Gatt and the World Trade Organisation, wrote: “The costs in human wellbeing of the refugee crisis, however calculated, are so extremely high that it is morally unacceptable for the UK not to play a fuller part in taking in refugees.”
It is the first time that such a large group of economists have criticised UK government immigration policy, and follows other open letters to the prime minister from the UK’s 350 top judges and lawyers, and 27 charities and NGOs including Oxfam, Amnesty International and the Refugee Council.
David Cameron’s government has agreed to take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years, from the camps on the borders of the war-torn country. More than 1,000 have arrived so far.
The numbers are dwarfed by the 1.1 million refugees taken in by Germany last year and 160,000 in Sweden, the highest in Europe as a proportion of the population. However, they and other EU countries are now trying to drastically reduce their refugee inflows.
The European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, told the World Economic Forum last month that if Europe works together it can turn the challenge of tackling the refugee crisis into an opportunity that will boost growth.
The economists argue that the UK’s offer of 20,000 resettlement places to Syrians outside the EU is “too low, too slow and too narrow”. They noted that the UK in its recent history has “taken in far higher numbers of asylum seekers and refugees and at far greater speed and managed it well”.
They write: “Refugees should be taken in because they are morally and legally entitled to international protection, not because of the economic advantages they may bring. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the economic contribution of refugees and their descendants to the UK has been high.”
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