UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage addresses the Bruges Group at the Manchester Town Hall in north-west England, on September 30, 2013
UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage addresses the Bruges Group at the Manchester Town Hall in north-west England, on September 30, 2013 © Leon Neal - AFP/File
UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage addresses the Bruges Group at the Manchester Town Hall in north-west England, on September 30, 2013
AFP
Last updated: December 29, 2013

Let Syrian refugees into Britain, eurosceptic leader says

Britain should take in refugees from the brutal conflict in Syria, the leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party Nigel Farage said Sunday.

The comments are unexpected from Farage, who has led opposition to the lifting of limits on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania on January 1, 2014.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's government has rejected calls from the United Nations and rights groups to resettle some of the most vulnerable of the estimated 2.3 million people who have fled the Syrian war.

"I think refugees are a very different thing to economic migration and I think that this country should honour the spirit of the 1951 declaration on refugee status that was agreed," Farage told the BBC.

"It was agreed with the UN and even through the European Court, which sadly has changed its role. But the original ideas of defining what a refugee is were good ones.

"I think actually there is a responsibility on all of us in the free West to try and help some of those people in Syria fleeing literally in fear of their lives."

Conservative leader Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg, and opposition Labour party leader Ed Miliband issued a rare joint statement earlier this week pledging more financial aid for Syrian refugees.

But they stopped short of offering any refugees asylum.

Immigration is a key issue for British voters ahead of a general election in May 2015, with Farage's UKIP in particular having pushed it up the agenda.

The tabloid press has increased pressure on Cameron ahead of the lifting of restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals next week.

Under EU rules people from Romania and Bulgaria, and eight other European countries who are currently allowed to undertake only a limited number of jobs, will have free access to the labour market from January 1, 2014.

Amnesty International said earlier this month that EU leaders should "hang their heads in shame" at their failure to provide safe haven for Syrian refugees.

The European Union has accepted 55,000 asylum seekers from Syria, according to the Amnesty report.

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