Motion to support and Welcome Refugees in Wandsworth:
Speech to the full council – October 14th 2015
Cllr Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Bedford ward
A man desperately clung on to his wife and two children as their boat capsized and they were washed away from him and onto the shores of a Turkish beach. Like driftwood.
This familiy, just like yours and mine, had hopes and dreams of a life ahead.
Sadly this is not an isolated event.
Bodies crammed into hot lorries, dangerous sea crossings and death of the most vulnerable. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated, ‘Syria has become the greatest tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history’
You will agree, this is a far cry from Wandsworth, “the brighter borough”…
So often, humanitarian crises offer no way for us to intervene and make a difference but sometimes, just sometimes, we can…
We should be proud to be leading the way here in Wandsworth, not sitting idly by, waiting to react to some grand announcement from up high.
Other councils have taken a stand for what is right while we sit here waiting… There are over 700 signiatures on the petition for Wandsworth to assist in accomodating families. This is just one example of Wandsworth residents proving they want us to take action.
All sides of the chamber in Merton council have come together to listen to their residents and have pledged to bring local voluntary and faith groups together to welcome refugees.
Kingston council, a conservative majority council has a bold leader in Cllr Davis.
Kingston Council was one of the first local authorities to make a commitment to accomodate 50 Syrian refugees. They used a Home Office resettlement scheme with rents paid through Housing Benefits (funded by the European Union).
Kingston council works hard with community leaders and local people to identify suitable properties. Cllr Davis wrote to other council leaders across the country to encourage them to do the same. Local communities can play a vital role in solving this humanitarian crisis.
Let it be clearly understood that there is a huge distinction between refugees and economic migrants. They are NOT THE SAME.
Our opposition colleagues may speak about housing our own residents as a priority and perhaps suggest we take refugees into our own homes, as one councillor suggested to a concerned constituent.
To be very clear, Wandsworth residents will not come second.
We are simply asking to accommodate at least 10 refugee families urgently if private accommodation is funded by central government and without displacing those on existing housing lists.
Help can go beyond housing families. There are a number of excellent voluntary and faith group organisations doing excellent work and offering support. This includes the Katherine Low settlement and Churches Together. We can make a plan to address any gaps in support, and create relationships with these groups to provide long-term support for refugee families.
I have spent years living and working in refugee camps in the Middle East. These people are strong, proud, honourable and hard working, even when living in diseased and putrid conditions. They are compelled to risk their lives because they have NO OTHER CHOICE.
If we believe in democracy and freedom, we cannot turn our back on those who seek the same for their families.
Let Little 3 year old Aylan’s death mean something. Let us act. We will go home tonight to warm beds, warm food and comfort. We have the ability to ensure that at least a few families can do the same.
Together lets take this small but significant step.
Lets Put political affiliation aside and do the right thing. Thank you.