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The government plans to review its £12bn annual foreign aid budget to fund Syrian refugees for their first year in the UK.
Not only could the funds help local councils to house those fleeing the war torn country, they could also be used to help Syria’s neighbours provide refugee camps for those the UK are unable to take.
The government haven’t officially revealed how many refugees will be accepted, but the Sunday Times have reported the figure could be as high as 15,000-20,000. Chancellor, George Osborne, has said the focus will be on admitting Syrian orphans.
He added: “The foreign aid budget can provide the support in the first year for these refugees, to help the local councils with things like housing costs. We will deploy the foreign aid budget to help with the costs of these refugees.”
The chancellor has confirmed that the government’s change of strategy was inspired by the publication of Aylan Kurdi’s photo, after the three-year-old Syrian boy drowned along with his mother and brother as his family tried to travel by boat from Turkey to Canada. Osborne has likened the image to the photograph of a young girl who fled a napalm attack during the Vietnam war.
The Conservative’s decision to divert some of the foreign aid budget to house Syrians in the UK is likely to divide the public. On the one hand, for those who are concerned about the arrival of refugees in the country, using foreign aid funds could reassure them that money will not be taken from other budgets within the UK. However, it could also draw attention to the amount of money that is currently spent overseas.
Some people may raise concerns that other countries that rely on foreign aid, such as Pakistan, Ethiopia and Bangladesh, may struggle if their funds are reduced. Currently, just £250m of the foreign aid budget is spent on basic supplies such as water, food, medicine and shelter in countries like Syria, Jordan and Turkey. 7p of every £10 raised from taxpayers is spent on overseas development and in 2014 this amounted to an estimated £11.8bn.
Foreign aid is already a politically divisive issue and many people have raised concerns that the money could be better spent improving the lives of those in the UK. However, the vast majority of Britons are in favour of supporting people overseas and believe the UK should continue to send money to developing countries.
At the start of 2015, The Department for International Development prioritised helping 9 million children to access education, immunising 55 million children against preventable diseases and saving the lives of at least 250,000 newborn babies. A grant of £724,500 was recently sent to Palestine to provide reconstructive surgery to victims of the Gaza conflict. In the midst of the Ebola outbreak, £230m was sent to help curb the spread of the disease.