COUNCIL chiefs say they would welcome Syrian refugees to North Ayrshire, the Times can reveal.

The UN has estimated that more than 333,000 people have tried to cross the Mediterranean in the past three months and almost 3,000 have died.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the UK will accept up to 20,000 people from camps surrounding Syria over the next five years, with priority given to vulnerable children.

The Prime Minister said the UK had a “moral responsibility” to those displaced by the conflict in Syria - a sentiment echoed by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who has said Scotland “stands ready to offer sanctuary” to refugees.

Speaking at a summit aimed at examining what Scotland can do to help ease the international refugee crisis last week Ms Sturgeon said Scotland should accept 1,000 refugees “as a starting point for a meaningful discussion”.

And today North Ayrshire Council Leader Willie Gibson said it would be ready and willing to do its part.

The Times asked Mr Gibson if North Ayrshire Council would be willing to offer accommodation to those escaping persecution in their own countries and he responded: “The council believes that everyone should be free to live without fear of persecution and will be ready to support any coordinated approach led by UK and Scottish Governments to help address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.” North Ayrshire residents are already showing support for the refugees and on Saturday (September 5) Reverend Neil Urquhart and Father Willie Boyd -under the banner of ‘Churches Together’ - held a candle lit vigil at Irvine’s Bridgegate to offer shoppers and residents the chance to light a candle and say a prayer for those suffering in the crisis.

Rev Neil said although public reactions were mixed, there was an overall positive response.

He said: “Responses to the Churches Together initiative were mixed. Many walked by without engaging, some spoke strongly of their disagreement to opening our borders to incomers when we already fail to look after our own with adequate housing and employment.

“But many gently grasped the chance to identify with refugees and join our peaceful and prayerful statement that we care.” A new group, spearheaded by Councillor Joe Cullinane, Ayrshire Support for Refugees, has also been set up this week in an effort to bring all the support groups together.

The first collection point will be the Vineburgh Community Centre which will be open 9am to 9pm for people to drop off donations.

The items will then be sorted at the Labour Party offices in Nelson Mandela Cottage in Townhead, Irvine.

The group are in the process of setting up a just giving page to raise money to fund vans and petrol costs to organise convoys from Ayrshire to Calais.

One of the previous groups, Calais Mission:Ayrshire, has started to collate a list of volunteers and that will be our starting point.

Cllr Cullinane added: “The group is called Ayrshire Support for Refugees as we hope it will be a lasting group that will continue to undertake activities to offer support for refugees across the globe wherever humanitarian crisis’ like the one in Calais arise.”