David Cameron meets refugees in Lebanon camp

The UK has agreed to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 from camps in the region, and Mr Cameron met a family who are due to be flown to the UK.

“I wanted to come here to see for myself and to hear for myself stories of refugees,” said the prime minister.

It comes as Europe sees a huge influx of people, many from the Middle East.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean – most fleeing conflict in Syria but large numbers also fleeing violence and poverty in Afghanistan, Eritrea and Kosovo.

The prime minister’s visit to Lebanon comes as:

Austria becomes the latest European country to tighten border controls, following the lead of Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland.

EU interior ministers are due to hold an emergency meeting on the migrant crisis.

Mr Cameron appoints Richard Harrington as minister for Syrian refugees to ensure arrivals are given a “warm welcome” in the UK.

The Dalai Lama, on a nine-day visit to Britain, says the UK’s pledge to take inmore refugees is “wonderful”

Ministers, meeting in Brussels, are due to vote on a plan from May to redistribute an initial 40,000 asylum seekers through mandatory quotas. The scheme wants to redistribute a total of 160,000 across 23 EU states.

Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to attend and oppose plans for any quota system. Under EU law the UK, Ireland and Denmark are exempt from the quota plan.

It is David Cameron’s first visit to Lebanon and he is here with a clear aim: to address the criticism that Britain is not doing enough to tackle Europe’s refugee crisis.

So he walked around a refugee camp in the Bekaa valley just one mile from the Syrian border to meet just some of the families benefitting from British aid.

He also visited a school at heart of Beirut supported by British cash where Syrian and Lebanese study alongside each other.

The PM’s argument is that this is the help Syrian refugees need rather than any encouragement to risk the dangerous journey to Europe.

So to a nation now familiar with television pictures of Syrian refugees fleeing across Europe, Mr Cameron wants to remind people of where the vast majority are, namely in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Syria itself.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, with 1.1 million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon alone.

Mr Cameron, on his first visit to Lebanon as prime minister, said the UK’s focuswas on how to help refugees there and in Jordan “to make sure we discourage people from making this dangerous journey to Europe”.

Following a meeting with Lebanon prime minister Tammam Salam, Mr Cameron said the UK was “determined to do all we can” to strengthen the security.

He said training had already been provided to more than 5,000 Lebanese soldiers and the UK had helped to build a series of watchtowers on the border with Syria.

Lebanon is to receive £29m of the £100m in aid recently pledged by Mr Cameron to help those who have been displaced by the conflict in Syria and in surrounding countries. It brings the UK’s total contribution over three years to more than £1bn.

It will pay for food packages for thousands of refugees, as well as clean water, blankets, stoves, mattresses, counselling support and play areas for children.

The prime minister met families living in one of the 1,500 refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley, which houses 525 Syrians in 90 tents and is less than a mile from the Syrian border.

He was invited into the tent of a mother of 10, who told him how she struggled to feed her family on reduced handouts of 13.50 US dollars (£8.75) a month.

Mr Cameron also visited the Sed el Boucrieh school in Beirut, which has tripled in size to 900 pupils due to the influx of Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband said the UK had to do more to help.

Mr Miliband, who heads up the aid agency International Rescue Committee, said it was inadequate to take just 4,000 refugees from Syria per year, adding it was the equivalent of the number arriving on the beaches of Greek island Lesbos every day.

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