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First Syrian refugees to arrive in UK within days

35The first Syrian refugees being brought to Britain direct from camps in the Middle East under the government’s expanded scheme to resettle only the most vulnerable are to arrive in the coming days, Theresa May has told MPs.
The home secretary said preparations were “proceeding at pace” to welcome more arrivals over the next few weeks, with a summit of official and voluntary organisations to be held in the next week to discuss how best to harness what she described as the strong desire of the public to welcome the refugees.
But May broke an evident cross-party consensus to welcome the refugees by branding the hundreds of thousands who have fled to Europe so far this year as the “fit and wealthy”, to justify Britain’s refusal to take part in an EU scheme to relocate 160,000 of them from Italy, Greece and Hungary.
May’s claim that only those who were “sufficiently fit or who have enough money” had made the journey to Europe was sharply criticised by the new shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, who said it was a dangerous generalisation.
In her Commons statement on the migration crisis, May again rejected cross-party calls to take part in the EU’s relocation plan. She said taking the most vulnerable people direct from the camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan deterred people of any age or wealth from making the perilous journey.
May told MPs that the first Syrian refugees being resettled in Britain direct from the region’s camps would arrive in the next few days. But the home secretary declined repeated demands to put any precise figure on how many of the 20,000 that the government has pledged to take over the next five years are would arrive by Christmas.
The resettlement summit is to be hosted by the new minister for Syrian refugees, Richard Harrington, who is already overseeing a “gold command” team inside the Home Office bringing together people from local government, overseas aid, foreign office, the UNHCR and other refugee aid organisations.
An official UK government web pageand a British Red Cross helpline have been set up to provide advice for any members of the public who want to help.
The home secretary said the expansion of the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme needed “careful and meticulous planning”. She confirmed that although the refugees would be arriving on five-year visas, so far funding from the overseas aid budget had been agreed only for the first 12 months they are here.
She disclosed that the chancellor, George Osborne, was considering what funding would be available to support the refugees for the other four years, and said that decision had to be taken in the context of the government’s spending review.
Burnham told her that more than 50 local councils had already offered to help but that goodwill needed to be turned into practical steps. “This is possibly the biggest crisis of its kind that we will see in our lifetime and the way we respond to it will define us as a generation. We need to be ready to do more if the necessity demands,” he said. “We need to reach out to our European neighbours whose challenges are greatest and we must honour our country’s long tradition of providing refuge to those who need it.”