Yesterday was #WorldRefugeeDay and I was lucky enough to be invited by the UNHCR to Speaker’s House in Parliament to hear actors and poets, joined by Lord Alf Dubs, recite and perform to mark the day.
Despite the happy event, yesterday was a day characterised by sadness – it provided a sobering reminder of how easily the world’s great powers can turn their backs on those fleeing war, persecution and poverty – the images from the US/Mexican border shocked us all and the ugly wrangling over the Aquarius refugee boat diminished those countries involved.
But it is not only world powers that are turning their backs. Some local councils, including my own – Wandsworth – are also turning their backs on the current refugee crisis.
Local Councils have an important role to play by offering housing and support to refugees arriving here from war-torn countries. The government has pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees and 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children by 2020. But it can only meet these targets if local Councils make housing available. Syrian refugees have recourse to public funds so Council budgets would not be compromised by a more welcoming policy.
Unfortunately, while I was at Speakers House, Wandsworth’s Tory councillors were voting yet again to reject Labour’s proposals to welcome just 10 Syrian refugee families to the borough.
Other Councils are stepping up and playing their part. Lewisham announced this week that it will take a further 100 refugee families. Hammersmith and Fulham have taken 40 refugee children, has offered to take a further 100 and has applied for £1.3m of EU funds to set up a refugee hub in Hammersmith to provide education and training.
Wandsworth has accepted just 4 Syrian refugee families in the borough.
It is 80 years since the kindertransport saved the lives of 10,000 children fleeing Nazi Germany by offering them refuge in the UK. At the time, Home Secretary, Samuel Hoare, a Conservative, 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.”
With Trump’s planned visit to the borough next month, now is the time for Wandsworth to show that it can rise to be worthy of the standards laid down by Conservatives of previous generations and show that refugees can be treated with humanity.