Why Britain is changing its mind on refugees

The British government has received mounting pressure to soften its stance on immigration after photos of a young Syrian boy who drowned in Turkey went viral.

Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/File
British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking during a media conference at the conclusion of the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, Latvia. Official figures on Thursday Aug. 27, 2015 show Britain gained almost 330,000 people through migration in the year to March 31, the highest figure on record and a headache for the Conservative government amid a political storm about immigration.

Sometime on Friday, the British government will make an announcement that may approve the intake of more refugees, according to The Independent.

Pressure has been mounting on Britain to soften its stance on immigration after the photographs of a Syrian boy lying dead on a Turkish beach brought public outcry over the refugee crisis to new heights.

The father of the 3-year-old boy, Aylan Kurdi, recounted their story in an interview with The New York Times on Thursday, describing how his family had paid smugglers more than $2,000 to be taken across the Aegean Sea to Greece.

Not long after getting into a 15-foot boat, however, five-foot waves engulfed the vessel, flipping it over and sending them all into the water. His wife, Rehan, and elder son, Galip, also drowned.

“I started pushing them up to the surface so they could breathe,” said Abdullah Kurdi, who told the Times his family had been fleeing the Syrian town of Kobane, not far from the Turkish border. “I had to shift from one to another. I think we were in the water for three hours trying to survive.”

The images have spurred reflection from British leaders who are now vowing to take action. “As a father, I felt deeply moved,” Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC. “Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfill our moral responsibilities.”

By Wednesday afternoon, an online petition to accept more asylum seekers to the UK had also received more than 300,000 signatures, well passing the 100,000 mark required by parliament to consider a debate.

“The UK is not offering proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts,” states the petition. “We must help.”

“As ordinary Britons and politicians of all parties came forward to demand the government adopt a more humane response to the migrant crisis, Downing Street indicated that some kind of climb-down was imminent,” reported The Independent.

"No final decisions have been made," noted BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

But “it is clear that Downing Street has concluded the political pressure does require them to give an additional response," she wrote. “I expect in the coming days the prime minister will promise more action.”

While Prime Minister Cameron has said Britain will continue taking “thousands of refugees,” he emphasized the need for a “comprehensive solution” to help find long-term stability in the migrants’ home countries.

“We have taken 5,000 people from the Syrian conflict, we will go on taking people and keep it under review,” he told BBC. “But … there isn’t a solution to this problem that’s simply about taking people.”

Leaders across Europe, whose governments join the UK in facing climbing tensions over their response to the recent migrant crisis, also addressed the viral photographs.

“The European nations that have turned the Mediterranean into a grave for immigrants share the sin for each immigrant’s death,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. “It is not only immigrants who are drowning in the Mediterranean, it is also our humanity.”

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