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Thousands of Refugee Life Jackets Lie Beneath Big Ben as UN Refugee Summit Kicks Off in New York

Parliament Square woke up to a big surprise this morning, as more than 2,500 life jackets used by refugees were laid across their front lawn. The ‘Life Jacket Graveyard’, in the shadow of London’s famous clocktower, included 625 jackets used by children. The demonstration, organised by Snappin’ Turtle Productions, was put together to draw attention to the Refugee Summit hosted in New York this week by Barack Obama.

Theresa May is due to speak at the summit later, and is expected to say that refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, stressing that nations have a right to control their borders. Last year, the UK agreed to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020 under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. It’s vital that this commitment is kept, and May must not shirk the UK's responsibility to play its part in responding to the crisis. The UK cannot be passengers to a crisis that we have a duty to help solve.

Clearly, there is immense public support to increase the Uk's response to the refugee crisis. Last weekend, 10,000 people marched in London to urge May’s government to act, as #WeStandWithYou and #RefugeesWelcome trended nationally on Twitter. Speakers at the march included actress Vanessa Redgrave and the new co-leader of the Greens Caroline Lucas. Sadly, despite the huge online pickup, media interest in the event remained typically low.

Read More: Half of All Child Refugees Aren't in School: Why This Is a Massive Problem

Ros Ereira, director of Solidarity with Refugees, is hopeful that the summit will be an opportunity for Britain to show the world that we want to help. “I really hope she is going to set the tone for what kind of a country we can be post-Brexit and with her new leadership,” she said. “Hopefully she will want to portray us as an open, tolerant, welcoming society that wants to play an important role on the global stage and lead an appropriate global humanitarian response.”

A recent report suggests that there are now over 65 million refugees worldwide, an increase of 5 million from last year. By the time you’ve taken an hour off for your lunch break, another 50 normal people will have been displaced. 4.5 million Syrians have fled their homes due to the ongoing conflict, whilst more than 3,200 people have died or gone missing so far this year attempting to cross the ocean into Europe.

Interestingly, Angela Merkel has taken the opposite stance to her British counterpart. For too long, Merkel said, she had relied on procedure according to the Dublin resolution, “which, to put it simply, had taken the problem off Germany’s hands”, adding: “And that was not good.” Essentially, Merkel is saying that we cannot let the first country that a refugee arrives in take full responsibility for their welfare. Every economy has a responsibiliy to take its fair share.

The life jackets laid in London  draw attention to the work that still needs to be done. May will also promise that although the UK is "already playing its part”, we must ”step up our efforts" with more financial backing. Certainly, this provides cause for optimism. But it’s important to be vigilant. It’s only through public pressure that  we can ensure that the UK remains on the boat in leading the charge to protect refugees worldwide.

Read More: The Key to Helping Refugees: Send Them to University