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Migrant Crisis Adds To Tension Between UK And Rest Of Europe


Britain is one of the countries gearing up to welcome some of the Syrians. The U.K. is planning to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. Now, that's a tiny fraction of the total. Not long ago, a single German city, Munich, took in that many refugees in a weekend. Now some British citizens want their country to do more, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Revolution, one solution...

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Over the weekend, thousands of people marched through the streets of cities all over the U.K., carrying signs saying, refugees welcome here and, no one is illegal. One of the demonstrators in London posted this video to YouTube.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We want freedom, freedom.

SHAPIRO: The march came the same day that Jeremy Corbyn was chosen to be the new leader of Britain's left-of-center Labour Party. He talked about the refugee crisis in his acceptance speech Saturday morning.


JEREMY CORBYN: I think it's quite incredible the way the mood in Europe has changed over the past few weeks, of understanding that people fleeing from wars, they are the victims of wars. They're human beings - just like you, just like me.

SHAPIRO: European interior ministers held an emergency meeting in Brussels yesterday. They discussed how to find homes for migrants who keep streaming into Europe. The British government does not plan to admit any of those people into the U.K.


DAVID CAMERON: Mr. Speaker, the whole country has been deeply moved by the heartbreaking images we've seen over the past few days.

SHAPIRO: In a speech to Parliament last week, Prime Minister David Cameron said the U.K. will take in 20,000 Syrians over the next 5 years, but those people will only come from camps near the Syrian border.


CAMERON: This provides refugees with a more direct and safe route to the United Kingdom rather than risking the hazardous journey to Europe, which has tragically cost so many lives.

SHAPIRO: Yesterday, Cameron unexpectedly showed up at a refugee camp in Lebanon.


CAMERON: I think it's vital to come here to see for myself what needs to be done.

SHAPIRO: He told reporters he's appointing a minister with specific responsibility for Syrian refugees.


CAMERON: To make sure that the 20,000 that we have promised to resettle and give a good, warm home to in our country, that that happens rapidly, it happens well and the whole country pulls together to deliver that.

SHAPIRO: Cameron is obviously responding to public pressure, but not in a way that will actually help relieve the immediate crisis in Europe, says Cathryn Costello. She teaches refugee law at Oxford University.

CATHRYN COSTELLO: The U.K., in spite of being one of the most populous states in the EU, had only 4 percent of the EU's asylum applicants. And it's really sort of sitting pretty with this buffer zone of the rest of the EU around it.

DON FLYNN: The problem with Europe is the absence of common policies.

SHAPIRO: Don Flynn is director of the Migrants' Rights Network in London.

FLYNN: There's a huge game of Beggar My Neighbor going on, with people claiming, it's not our responsibility; it's yours.

SHAPIRO: From the British perspective, this is just one of many tension points between the U.K. and the rest of Europe. The frustration between the two has been growing for years. Cameron's government has promised a referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union altogether. And that leaves the EU with almost no leverage to twist British arms to do more in the refugee crisis. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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