I think it is safe to say that, despite its best efforts, many of us would characterise this coalition government with disappointment over a series of broken promises.
Whether it be the promise to stop the extensive reorganisation of the NHS in order to regain a focus on patient care – on which the government has managed to do a complete 180 with the help of massive reforms lead by Andrew Lansley. Or the promise to put an end to child poverty – an incontestably commendable goal, but one that has been made impossible by the government’s extensive benefit reforms. Or last, but certainly not least, the widely condemned rise in university tuition fees, despite heartfelt promises of the polar opposite. Arguably the biggest and most destructive broken vow of this coalition that has turned an entire generation of voters against the Lib-Dems.
However, there is another broken vow that is not quite so close to home but is markedly more serious. Last year, the coalition government pledged to work alongside the United Nations to enact a specialist scheme in response to the Syrian crisis. This project, named The Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme for Syrian Nationals, was initiated with the explicit intention of helping “the most vulnerable” Syrian refugees to find homes in the United Kingdom.
Despite this honourable pledge, far from the hundreds they promised to help, statistics now show that as little as 90 Syrian refugees have actually received help in the form of refuge in the UK. The government’s defence of this pitiful figure is that this was a scheme “based on need” – which would be entirely fair enough if there hadn’t been around 20 times more applications than there have been people helped. Clearly this need has not been met.
The very first line of the ministerial statement with regards to this scheme, as written by James Brokenshire (our Immigration and Security Minister) in March 2014, states that “Our country has a proud history of granting protection to those who need it”. This sentence is now the nail in our own coffins. In what way could this government’s response to an issue they themselves have articulated as being “appalling”, inject us with anything resembling pride? Could it be that these were simply more empty words, articulated by the government in the vain hope of gaining the support of voters?
The Syrian conflict began as a series of pro-democracy protests, and has resulted in an estimated total of over 200,000 citizens being killed; a figure that is continuing to rise day by day. On top of this, the UN has revealed that both sides of the conflict have now committed a series of war crimes resulting in the serious violation of human rights. These include, but are not limited to, widespread murder, torture and rape. Following the chemical attacks in August 2013, in which hundreds of innocent villagers were killed; over 3 million people have now fled the country in search of a safer place to live, and a further 10.8 million are still in need of humanitarian assistance within Syria itself.
Do we not have a moral duty to effect more genuine humanitarian assistance for citizens of countries such as Syria? Indeed, as one of the most developed liberal democracies in the world, I would suggest that our failure to help these people despite our capacity to do so is verging on disgraceful.