Refugees Welcome: ‘We can make a difference to people fleeing war’

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Wandsworth Labour councillor, has worked with refugees around the world. Pictured here a treating children in a village on the border of Kenya and Uganda
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Wandsworth Labour councillor, has worked with refugees around the world. Pictured here a treating children in a village on the border of Kenya and Uganda

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.

 

It’s time for Wandsworth council to show leadership on the refugee crisis

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour councillor who will speak in the refugees debate, is an emergency doctor whose humanitarian work has taken her around the world, including to East Timor
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour councillor who will speak in the refugees debate, is an emergency doctor whose humanitarian work has taken her around the world. Pictured treating children in East Timor who had fled from war

Wandsworth council should uphold its long tradition of supporting refuges and commit to accommodate at least 10 refugee families urgently, says Wandsworth Labour.

Councillor Fleur Anderson has put forward a motion “to welcome, support and accommodate refugees” to this Wednesday’s council meeting (full text below).

Fleur says: “’Like so many people I have been very moved by the stories of so many refugees fleeing their countries and needing to find safety. I felt it could have been me and my family and want to make sure we do what we can to help.

“We can do things like give items for Calais and money, but our Council could play an important role too. I’ve been really disappointed by the Council’s inaction and just saying they will wait to hear from central government. They could be lobbying the government to do more, giving concrete pledges to show that we will welcome refugees in Wandsworth, and supporting local groups who are working flat out to support refugees already living here.

“I hope that they will show more compassion and step up their act after our debate on Wednesday.”

Motion to welcome, support and accommodate refugees in Wandsworth

This Council notes that:

Conflicts in the Middle East have created the largest refugee crisis in generations. With many refugees now in Europe and with winter approaching there is a need for urgent action.

The United Kingdom has played a leading role as one of the world’s top international donors to the region. However the UK has only accepted 216 Syrian refugees under the Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme since its launch in January 2014, and 5,000 Syrian refugees since 2011.

Wandsworth has a long tradition of supporting refugees, including by the South London Refugee Association who have a drop-in centre in Balham mainly run by volunteers which is currently almost overwhelmed by the numbers of people and severity of needs they see.

Over 700 people have signed a petition to ask that Wandsworth welcome 10 refugee families but received no reply to requests for the Council to make a public pledge.

This Council resolves to

  1. Pledge to accommodate at least 10 refugee families urgently if private accommodation is funded by central government and therefore without displacing those on existing housing lists, and encourage other London Boroughs to make a similar pledge by contacting all other Boroughs.
  2. Become the first London ‘Borough of Sanctuary’ and facilitate coordination of refugee support with existing education, housing, immigration, employment, health, arts and other services.
  3. Assess support for refugees by the Council and voluntary groups, and make a plan to address any gaps in support, including the South London Refugee Association, and the Katherine Low Settlement, and increase work with these groups to provide long-term support for refugee families.
  4. Agree as a matter of urgency to authorise officers to accept refugees from Syria under the government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, which is fully funded by central government for one year and to lobby the government to increase the length of the funding.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour councillor who will speak in the refugees debate,  treating children in East Timor
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour councillor who will speak in the refugees debate, treating children in East Timor

Refugee crisis – what can we do in Wandsworth?

Hassan, 5, one of many children that make the journey from Syria to Greece
Hassan, 5, one of many children that make the journey from Syria to Greece

The shocking situation of migrants in camps and crossing Europe has really made us look into what we can do to help. We’ve put together some information and links to what individuals can do, and will be urging local politicians to take what action they can too.

The United Nations refugee agency says that more than 2,500 migrants and refugees have died or gone missing this year while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Last year Britain accepted 216 people under a scheme to relocate the most vulnerable refugees, and almost 5,000 Syrians had been granted asylum in the last four years.

Here are five top ideas, and lots more information below too:

1. Donate essential items

There is a local pick up point for Calais Action in Brixton (by 13 September) and Morden (by 12 September).

2. Give money

Red Cross Europe: provides emergency health services at central train stations.

3. Shop on Amazon 

An Amazon wish list has been set up for people to buy specific items such as shoes and sleeping bags to be delivered to Calais as part of the appeal #KentforCalais and #HelpCalais. The truck leaves on 17 September.

4. Sign a petition

Over 380,000 people have signed this petition to the government in the last few days.

5. Write to your local MP

We have three MPs in Wandsworth and if you could write and urge them to take action locally and to support refugees abroad this will show how many of their consituents think this issue is important. Write to your MP here.

 

More information and ideas:

Make a donation

Make a financial donation to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that is doing related humanitarian work overseas. These could include:

Volunteer, fundraise, collect

Get political!