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(The Guardian) – David Cameron’s limp action on refugees puts Britain outside the EU 

David Cameron’s limited promise of only 4,000 places a year for Syrian refugees provides a glimpse of the impotence of Britain’s future role in world affairs outside the EU.

His Commons promise to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years is at the bottom end of expectations. It stands in sharp contrast to the French pledge of 24,000 places over the next two years. As the Labour MP and father of the house, Gerald Kaufman, angrily pointed out: “The Germans took in 10,000 refugees in one day.”

Cameron has deliberately spurned taking part in a much bigger EU scheme to resettle those in the camps in countries neighbouring Syria. He has also rejected playing any part in the expected EU request this week to relocate the estimated 160,000 refugees who have made it across the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece or through the Balkans to Hungary.

With more than 4 million Syrians already living in UN camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey it is hard to see how Britain’s own-brand resettlement scheme can make any significant difference to the situation.

It will undoubtedly make a world of difference to the few thousand who are lucky enough to be named each year by a British official as among the most deserving of sanctuary in the UK. But all the signs are that Cameron is set to repeat the same mistakes made when the UK’s vulnerable persons relocation scheme, as it is officially known, was set up in January last year.

One major reason why only 216 people actually arrived in Britain by the end of June this year under the scheme was the difficulty of finding councils willing to host them. This was not due to any lack of political will. Big cities such as Manchester, Sheffield and Glasgow were only too willing to help.

But the Home Office was only willing to guarantee funding for the refugees for one year while they have been given resettlement rights in Britain for five years.

Cameron made clear in the small print of his statement that this funding situation has yet to improve. Yes, the money is to come from the international aid budget, but its rules only allow the government to fund the reception of refugees in the UK and that means it cannot last more than 12 months.

As the Local Government Association was quick to warn after Cameron’s statement, councils must not be left to pick up the pieces again “when the funding runs out and the world’s attention has moved on”. The home secretary and the communities secretary have been given a week to thrash out a solution in the midst of the toughest public spending squeeze for a generation.

But the existing scheme not only suffers from funding problems – it is also one of the most bureaucratic refugee resettlement schemes in the world.

While the EU’s resettlement programme relies on a nomination from the UN high commissioner for refugees, Britain’s operates complex criteria which Cameron has indicated are about to become even more complicated.

The existing scheme is designed to give priority to those who are victims of sexual violence or torture or are too elderly or disabled to live in the camps. Cameron made clear that he wants to expand those priorities to include orphaned children, Christians and Yazidis. No doubt it will be a few more days before the official review of these criteria is completed, further delaying the arrival of anybody under the scheme.t

In his Commons statement, Cameron made much of how Britain did not need to take part in the EU’s programmes to provide international protection, saying they could only operate within the Schengen border-free zone.

But as Ireland, which also has an exemption from EU asylum programmes, has shown by volunteering to take 1,800 Syrian refugees over the next two years, it is perfectly possible to take part in that coordinated European response if Cameron wanted to.

The UNHCR has called for an end to Europe’s fragmented response to the refugee crisis. France and Germany seem to recognise that a joint European approach is the only way to match the scale of that crisis. In a key test of European solidarity, when Germany is saying it cannot be expected to act alone, Britain has decided once again to sit it out on the sidelines.

As the French president, Francois Hollande, put it on Monday: “It’s true that Britain is not in the Schengen area … but that doesn’t absolve it from making an effort in terms of solidarity,” making clear there would be a price to be paid when Britain in turn demands ‘solidarity’ over reform of the EU.

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