BRITAIN is to take in "hundreds" of Syrian refugees after the Coalition Government bowed to mounting internal and outside pressure ahead of today's House of Commons debate.
Victims who will be brought to this country include vulnerable hardship cases: women and girls who have been victims of or are at risk of sexual violence; survivors of torture; the elderly and the disabled. Government sources said that there would be a steady flow arriving in Britain in the coming months but the first refugees could arrive within weeks.
They stressed the UK Government had not set a quota or target number but would, in liaison with the United Nations refugee agency, concentrate on the most vulnerable cases in the refugee camps. The overall figure was "likely to be in the hundreds".
The move represents a U-turn for David Cameron and his Tory colleagues, who initially had set their faces against taking in refugees, arguing that the scale of the problem - 11.5 million Syrians need help - meant Britain could best target resources through humanitarian aid. The UK has pledged £600 million, making it the second largest donor.
But political pressure from Liberal Democrats within the Coalition and from Labour, the SNP and Greens, as well as campaigners outside Parliament have led to a change of heart.
France has already agreed to take 500 refugees under the UN scheme and Germany has accepted 1000 with a promise of admitting another 9000.
Nick Clegg said: "The Coalition Government wants to play our part in helping to alleviate the immense suffering in Syria."
The Deputy Prime Minister said Britain was "one of the most open-hearted countries in the world" and had already pledged £600m but that it had a moral responsibility to do more.
"The UN High Commission for Refugees - which backs our new resettlement programme - has said the highest priority should go to women and girls who have experienced or are at risk of sexual violence, the elderly, survivors of torture and individuals with disabilities; so that's who we'll target," he said.
Mr Clegg added: "Britain has a long and proud tradition of providing refuge at times of crisis. This Coalition Government will ensure it lives on."
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the Coalition move, saying: "Compassion and common sense have prevailed over Government and ministerial resistance. It is a tribute to the work of charities, campaigners and cross-party support in Parliament that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have reversed their position completely in the space of a week.
"It is right that we also do our bit to provide the most desperate refugees with a place of safety."