THE first Syrian refugees to come to the UK will not arrive until the spring, it has been claimed.

Last month, David Cameron bowed to public and political pressure to allow some of those in the camps in countries surrounding Syria to come to Britain.

While the Lib-Con Coalition will not sign up to the UN refugee programme or set any target, it is expected that up to 500 of the most vulnerable cases will be allowed into the UK for a period, thought to be up to three years.

Loading article content

The UK's "vulnerable person relocation scheme" will run in parallel to the UN's own refugee programme with the aim of resettling those at the "greatest risk". These will include victims of sexual violence, the elderly, the disabled and the orphaned.

Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Government's External Affairs Secretary, has made clear Scotland "is ready and willing" to welcome and resettle refugees from the Syrian conflict.

In January, the Prime Minister told MPs the Coalition would act with the "greatest urgency". But when a senior Whitehall source close to the UK Government's refugee process was asked when the first Syrians could be received into Britain, he said: "It won't be for a couple of months yet.

"We're working with the agencies on the ground but there is still a lot to be organised. The vast majority of people in the camps do not want to leave to go to another country; they want to go back to their homes."

However, as the civil war rages on in Syria and the diplomatic talks in Switzerland seem at present intractable, no one expects a solution to end the violence to be found soon; indeed, it could take years to return the country to peace and stability.

Until Mr Cameron's commitment to allow some of the most vulnerable Syrian cases to come to Britain, the nation's focus had been on providing humanitarian aid. At £600m, the UK is the second largest donor behind America. It has also given sanctuary to 3500 Syrian asylum seekers.

Mr Cameron and his Tory colleagues had initially set their faces against taking in refugees, arguing that the scale of the ­problem meant Britain could best target resources through humanitarian aid.

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.

The UN estimates there are 2.4 million Syrian refugees,e among a total of 6.5 million people, who have had to leave their homes because of the civil war. Lebanon has seen the largest influx of refugees at 860,000 followed by Jordan with 580,000, Turkey 560,000, Iraq 211,000 and Egypt 132,000.