Twenty seven Chief Executives of Refugee organisations and human rights advocacy groups wrote to the Prime Minister on 4 January calling for the UK to increase substantially the number of refugees that it accepts
The groups called on the government to agree to resettle a ‘fair and proportionate number of those already within the European Union and those outside it’.
This is, of course, in addition to the 20,000 Syrian refugees that the government has pledged to settle in the UK over the next five years.
So what might a ‘fair and proportionate number’ actually entail?
In its autumn economic forecast, released in November last year, the European Commission said that it expected the number of irregular entrants to reach 3 million between Quarter 4 of 2015 and the end of 2017.
Some have argued in the past that a ‘fair and proportionate’ number of refugees should be based on the size of the UK as a proportion of the overall EU population.
For instance, in September 2015, journalist Patrick Kingsley argued that, since the UK’s population of 64 million is roughly 12% of Europe’s 500 million, the UK should take 12% of Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis who form the bulk of the refugees arriving in the EU.
On this basis, an initial figure for the number of additional future migrants that the UK should accept would be 12% of the 3 million expected arrivals over the next two years, or 360,000.
However, it should not be assumed that all of those 360,000 migrants would be granted asylum. Statistics from Eurostat show that, of the 375,000 asylum cases heard in the first three quarters of 2015, 53% were rejected while most asylum claims from Syria (96%), Iraq (88%) and Afghanistan (69%) are granted.
On this basis, a cautious expectation of the number that might be accepted by the UK after processing in the EU would be 53% of 360,000, or 190,800 over two years.
However, this same lobby is also pressing for the UK to take ‘a fair and proportionate’ number of refugees who have not yet reached Europe.
As Eurostat data shows, Syrian nationals represented the largest group of asylum seekers in 2015 – 266,000 over this period. The next largest groups were Afghans – 122,000 and Iraqis – 92,000.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission estimates that there are more than 4 million Syrian refugees in countries neighbouring Syria.
In addition, according to the UN, there are at least 7.6 million people displaced within Syria itself, as well as 1.4 million internally displaced people in Iraq and 900,000 internally displaced in Afghanistan.
The UK’s 12% share of the approximately 13.9 million people from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan who have been displaced either internally or externally by conflict, would be nearly 1.7 million people.
There would of course be further significant consequences.
Such a major opening up of EU borders would encourage those without a genuine claim for asylum to attempt to make it to Europe, as we have already seen with the large numbers of Balkan migrants making their way to Germany last year.
While no doubt well intentioned, the signatories to this letter fail to be frank with the public about what their suggested policy prescriptions would actually entail. Their definition would encompass just under 14 million potential refugees from just three countries, not to mention others from the same countries who might also opt to join the exodus. Others from countries in Africa and Asia would also be disposed to move, including a substantial number of economic migrants, for example from the very poor countries of Sub Saharan Africa.
Thus the UK’s ‘fair and proportionate share’ would be of the order of two million over a period of several years with an unknown number to follow. It is very hard to believe that these bodies are proposing a course of action that would be feasible and acceptable to the broader public if they understood the scale of what would be involved.
 Eurostat, First Instance Decisions on Applications by Citizenship, Age and Sex, Quarterly Data, Accessed December 2015.
 Eurostat, Asylum and First Time Asylum Applicants by Citizenship, Age and Sex, Monthly Data, Accessed December 2015.
Signatories of the letter include: ActionAid UK; Amnesty International UK; Asylum Aid; Bond; British Refugee Council; CAFOD; Christian Aid; City of Sanctuary; CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network); Doctors of the World UK; Freedom from Torture; Greenpeace UK; International Rescue Committee UK; Islamic Relief UK; Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants; Liberty; Muslim Charities Forum; North of England Refugee Service; Oxfam GB; Refugee Action; Responding to Conflict; Scottish Refugee Council; Student Action for Refugees; Welsh Refugee Council; Women for Refugee Women; World Vision UK; and Y Care International.
To read the full letter, click here and scroll down to the bottom of the article.