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UN Says Next British Govt. Should Do More for Refugees Escaping Conflict | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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School children, including those with refugee backgrounds, read real-life stories about refugees during a classroom lesson in London, Britain July 15, 2016. (Reuters)

The United Nations refugee agency called on Monday the next British government to “do the right thing” when it comes to refugees, saying it can do more to help them.

The UNHCR representative to the UK, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, said the new government should increase resettlement quotas, reunite more refugees with family in the UK and cut the number of detained asylum seekers.

“Britain has a rich history of welcoming those forced to flee, and UNHCR urges the next government to do the right thing and ensure a fair and equal treatment for all refugees,” Llosa wrote in an editorial for The Times newspaper on Monday.

General elections in Britain are set for June 8.

Llosa said the UK should resettle 10,000 refugees a year from war-torn regions, instead of the current pledge to receive 20,000 Syrians and 3,000 vulnerable child migrants by 2020. UNHCR said 1.2 million refugees are in need of resettlement globally from host countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya and Tanzania.

“Resettlement not only benefits needy refugees. It also helps to relieve a small part of the burden on those developing countries which have for years been sheltering millions of refugees,” Llosa said.

In 2016, 65.3 million people were uprooted from their homes around the world, and among them, nearly 21.3 million refugees, the UNHCR says.

He said refugees were also suffering unnecessarily from Britain’s “restrictive and complex” family reunification process, which only lets children under 18 reunite with their parents. Refugee children in the UK are also unable to sponsor their parents or siblings, according to the British Red Cross.

Llosa called for Britain to cut the number of asylum seekers in detention and to integrate them into the community under supervision.

There were about 123,000 refugees and 45,870 asylum seekers in the UK by the end of 2015, according to UNHCR.

Earlier on Monday, two United Nations agencies announced that more than 1 million children have fled South Sudan’s civil war, part of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

Another 1 million South Sudanese children are displaced within the country, having fled their homes due to the civil war, said the UN’s child and refugee agencies in a statement.

“The future of a generation is truly on the brink,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The horrifying fact that nearly one in five children in South Sudan has been forced to flee their home illustrates how devastating this conflict has been for the country’s most vulnerable.”

Roughly 62 percent of refugees from South Sudan are children, according to the UN statement, and more than 75,000 children are alone or without their families. Roughly 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan in total.

“No refugee crisis today worries me more than South Sudan,” said Valentin Tapsoba, UNHCR’s Africa Bureau Director. “That refugee children are becoming the defining face of this emergency is incredibly troubling.”

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 and has killed tens of thousands of people. South Sudan is now the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

Elsewhere, over 500 migrants who were trying to cross the Mediterranean in several small boats that were in danger of capsizing have been rescued at sea, a Spanish aid organization.

Proactiva Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza said on Sunday that the Golfo Azzurro, a former fishing trawler the group operates, plucked 514 migrants from over a dozen rubber and wooden boats during a 24-hour period from Saturday to Sunday morning.

The people rescued were refugees fleeing the war in Syria and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who had set sail from Libya, according to Lanuza.

The Golfo Azzurro was operating as part of an NGO rescue fleet coordinated by the Italian coast guard.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats in hopes of a better life in Europe, but thousands die each year trying. Libya is one of the prime launching points.

On Saturday, a Spanish navy frigate rescued another 651 migrants off the coast of Libya.