UKIP leader Nigel Farage
Ukip leader Nigel Farage

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has said that Britain should offer refuge to those fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Although opposed to allowing access to economic migrants from Eastern Europe, Farage said that offering entry to those fleeing conflict was "a very different thing."

In a BBC interview he said: "I think refugees are a very different thing to economic migration and I think this country should honour the 1951 declaration on refugee status that was agreed.

"It was agreed with the UN and even through the European Court, which sadly has changed its role.

"But the original ideas of defining what a refugee is were good ones and I think, actually, there is a responsibility on all of us in the free west to try and help some of those people fleeing Syria, literally in fear of their lives."

He said it was time for "a proper debate" about "the difference between a refugee - who fears for his or her life - or somebody moving simply for economic benefit".

The arch-eurosceptic MEP has strongly opposed immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania being allowed to enter Britain when they gain free access to the EU labour market on 1 January 2014.

The government has refused to allow Syrian refugees access to the country. The Tories are already worried that an influx of Eastern Europeans will be unpopular with voters, so allowing Syrians entry would play badly in the electoral booths.

Labour has criticised the government, and wants 400 to 500 Syrian refugees to be given a home in Britain. However, Farage did not say how many he thinks should be admitted.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that the UK had refused to join 16 other countries including the US, France and Germany in allowing 10,000 Syrians refuge in their borders.

Former Liberal democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said that it was "unfortunate" Britain decided not to join its neighbours and offer refugees a haven.

"It's unfortunate, to put it as mildly as I possibly can, that we have closed our minds to that possibility when other countries in Europe have taken a much more generous position," he told the BBC's World at One.

In a rare joint statement, the leaders of the three main political parties joined to back a UN appeal for $6.5 billion (£3.9bn) aid to help those displaced by the war, the largest appeal in the organisation's history.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband said that the future of a whole generation of Syrian children "hangs in the balance", with four million caught up in the conflict.

They pledged to add to the £523 million they have already committed to helping the refugees.

It is believed that approximately two million Syrians have fled the three-year long civil war, many in to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.