Speaking to the Express & Star as she was made an honorary doctor of letters at the University of Wolverhampton, Miss Short accused the government of failing to come up with a strategy to help people in Syria.
The former Birmingham Ladywood MP and international development secretary, who resigned from Tony Blair's government in protest at the Iraq war, also criticised David Cameron's handling of refugees.
She said: "The government has been very mean-spirited.
"At first it was saying we wouldn't do anything. And it was public opinion that shamed them.
"Then they came up with a plan to accept 20,000 over five years.
"It was better than before and it was because of public opinion as they saw people struggling and that little boy dying in Turkey.
"They wouldn't co-operate in a European wide solution but no-one country can solve this.
"We need to end the wretched war in Syria and there hasn't been enough effort in that direction, including by Britain.
"The other is to take care of people who were forced out of their country by horrendous violence.
"The bulk of refugees are in neighbouring poor countries.
"We should play our part in looking after people and then in ending the war."
Labour's new leader Jeremy Corbyn is likely to come under pressure from his MPs to support a bombing campaign in Syria.
But Miss Short, aged 69, said: "I think air strikes without any new strategy is just nonsense.
"Us doing a few flights into Syria is not a new policy, it's tokenism.
"If Britain, which is already flying and bombing in Iraq would be more active in looking for allies in the international system we would be a more useful country.
"It's pure tokenism to say our planes can bomb in Iraq as well as in Syria alongside the American planes.
"That is not a serious British strategy. It means we are playing games, not trying to use our influence to bring real solutions.
Addressing the suffering of the people of Syria – that's the only real solution – to make the people's country safe.
"We need to get together and share out some care for these people."
Asked about her honorary doctorate Miss Short said: "I was very pleased to accept this and honoured by it.
"I'm from just down the road. A lot of students will be children of my former constituents. I came from Handsworth and became and MP and cabinet minister. I was saying to them, the world's your oyster.
"They are very similar to me."
After resigning from Mr Blair's cabinet Miss Short then spent three years on the backbenches as a Labour MP, before resigning the party whip in 2006.
She served the remainder of her time as an independent, standing down from Parliament in 2010.
The former MP also had warm words for Labour's new leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent 32 years as backbencher and frequently rebelled against his own party, but urged him to promote a 'feasible' alternative to the Tories.
Miss Short said: "Jeremy's a very nice guy. He's been a pure opposition-ist. He's not a sectarian kind of guy. That people voted in such numbers shows they want change.
" They are sick of the Labour party looking like the Tory party. They want something different and now he has to say what he's in favour of and get people together.
"You can't just say what's wrong, you have to say what's feasible. I hope he can do it and good luck to him."
Miss Short was awarded her honorary doctorate on the same day as Conservative peer Lord Baker, the former education secretary responsible for introducing the national curriculum.