British Prime Minister David Cameron is to set out details of the government’s plans to re-settle thousands of refugees fleeing the bloody Syrian civil war.
Officials have been working on the scheme throughout the weekend after the prime minister dramatically dropped his opposition to taking more people seeking sanctuary from the conflict.
Mr Cameron – who will give full details in a Commons statement – was effectively forced to act after harrowing photographs of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Mediterranean beach galvanised public opinion.
He had previously argued taking in refugees would simply encourage more people to risk the hazardous sea crossing to Europe which has already claimed thousands of lives.
Under the proposal, announced on Friday during a visit to Portugal and Spain, Britain will take refugees directly from the camps in countries bordering Syria – avoiding the need for them to put themselves in the hands of people traffickers.
It represents a major expansion of an existing government programme to provide places for the most vulnerable refugees which has so far seen 216 Syrians re-settled in Britain.
Critics have said the plan will do nothing to help the tens of thousands who have already made it across to Europe and are seeking to make their way to the wealthier northern nations, most notably Germany, to claim asylum.
However, Mr Cameron has been adamant Britain will not join a proposed EU scheme to redistribute some 160,000 people among the member states, despite risking alienating key allies like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ministers refused to be drawn over the weekend on how many people will be admitted to the UK, although the government is likely to want to appear as generous as possible, prompting speculation that it could be up to 10,000.
Chancellor George Osborne sought to reassure Conservative MPs concerned about the costs, saying funds will be channelled from the international aid budget to local councils to pay for housing and other services.
It forms part of a fundamental re-think of the aid programme in order to support Britain’s national interest, with a big shift of resources to the Middle East to promote stability in the region.
Mr Osborne stressed the refugee programme could only be one element in a wider plan to address the root causes of the refugee crisis, with action to tackle the “evil” regime of President Bashar al-Assad as well as the jihadists of Islamic State (IS).
Ministers are to begin making the case to extend RAF air strikes against IS in Iraq and join the United States and other allies in attacking them in their heartlands inside Syria.