Councillor Candida Jones’s speech Wandsworth Council about the refugee crisis, October 14, 2015
Wandsworth has offered sanctuary to refugees, quaintly referred to on the council’s website as “profitable and gentle strangers”, for centuries.
So proud are we of this tradition of welcoming those fleeing persecution that we have literally carved it in stone – one of the reliefs on the Town Hall’s exterior depicts Huguenots, given sanctuary here, busy at work at Wandsworth’s fabric mills.
Refugees to this borough have enriched the wealth and culture of Wandsworth immeasurably; many Huguenots became successful members of the community and made Wandsworth famous for its dyeing, silk weaving and hat-making businesses. More recent refugees to the borough have included the former MP of Battersea, Lord Dubbs, who arrived as part of the Kinder Transport in 1938, and our own Council Leader, whose family, along with 27,000 other refugees, fled persecution and were welcomed here.
We must not shut the door behind them.
Now is the time for Wandsworth to show that same spirit of welcome and leadership that defines us – this is the worst refugee crisis to face Europe since World War 2 and we must respond.
There are tangible steps that Wandsworth can take to make a life-changing difference to people fleeing war and I urge you all to take these.
We are asking Wandsworth to welcome and support just 10 refugee families, by which we mean fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, children, people just like you and me. To minimise the burden on the Council’s resources we urge Wandsworth to liaise with private landlords and individuals to avoid the displacement of those on current housing waiting lists.
And of course refugees, granted a five-year humanitarian protection visa, have recourse to national public funds, so Council budgets would not be compromised.
As well as providing register of local landlords and individuals who are happy to take in refugees, the Council could actively seek the support of schools, GPs, the voluntary sector, churches and other faith and community groups in offering other practical solutions.
The Council could sign up to Local Government Association’s Regional Strategic Migration Partnership. The LGA has confirmed that there will be additional funding for refugees beyond the first 12 months and that this will not be taken from the overall council allocation. The scheme is simple, the UNHCR refer cases to the Home Office to check they meet eligibility criteria and to carry out medical and security checks and the Home Office then passes the cases to a local authority who has asked to participate. What reason can there be for Wandsworth not to participate in this scheme?
Two people in my ward have already contacted me to say that they are willing to help. One, a local vicar, said “I was wondering what Wandsworth was doing around helping and taking in refugees, but have so far drawn a blank. I was only thinking that the churches would be well placed to provide the welcome and ongoing support that they would need”. These offers need coordinating; the Council is best-placed to do this.
Yesterday, Churches Together in Balham unanimously backed our call for this Council to receive at least ten refugee families, saying “As representatives of Christians in Balham, we urge you to uphold values of compassion and humanity in the face of the current global crisis by taking this very small but significant step as a response”.
I would like to end by quoting two Conservatives. Samuel Hoare, who, as home secretary in 1938, was instrumental in obtaining approval for the British rescue effort of children in Europe known as the Kindertransport, said ‘I believe that we could find homes in this country for a very large number without any harm to our own population”. He added; ‘We have a splendid opportunity of raising our own level, and rising to be worthy of our own standards in carrying out this task of relief and salvation.’
And Cllr Govindia himself, who has said; “Many local people are ready to make a personal contribution. This borough has a long and proud history of helping people who have fled persecution”
If Wandsworth does not do everything it can to help the “Profitable and gentle strangers” of today it will be doing its history and its own standards, a huge disservice. Please vote with your conscience to do more.