Motion to welcome, support and accommodate our fair share of refugees both locally and nationally

This is my second motion for the next Full Council:

Motion to welcome, support and accommodate our fair share of refugees both locally and nationally

This Council notes that:

Conflicts in the Middle East have created the largest refugee crisis in generations.

Thousands of people have died while seeking sanctuary from the violence this year alone trying to cross the Mediterranean sea; many of them were children.

The United Kingdom has played a leading role as one of the world’s top international donors, supporting refugees in Syria and the surrounding area.

The UN estimates there are over 320,000 people though who live in urgent need of resettlement. Survivors of torture or sexual violence, the very elderly or disabled, there are people who cannot survive in UN refugee camps near in countries surrounding Syria.

The UK has a long and important tradition of offering sanctuary to those who need protection. 100,000 Huguenots, 10,000 Jewish Kindertransport children spared the Nazi concentration camps, 160,000 Poles following the Second World War many of whom had served in the Battle of Britain, the Vietnamese Boat People, the 28,000 Asian Ugandans fleeing Idi Amin and the people who fled the war in Kosovo. This is our proud and decent tradition.

To play its part fully in solving this global crisis the British government must work for durable long term political solutions in the region, lead as a major international donor, and live up to its reputation as a place of sanctuary, integration and protection.

This Council believes:
  • That this crisis will be better managed if incoming refugees are accommodated around the whole country;
  • We can best rise to the crisis if a National Welcome and Resettlement Board bringing together local and national government, civil society and business leadership, is created to oversee efforts to resettle refugees and mobilise public support as in times past;
  • Long term political solutions are needed to ease the crisis, but in the mean time we must do what we can;
  • The UK must welcome its fair share of refugees to ease this crisis.
This Council resolves to:
  • Formally express an interest in both the VPR and Gateway programmes to the Home Office, requesting that 100 refugees be resettled here;
  • Write to local housing associations to encourage them to make properties available to resettle refugees;
  • To commit to ensuring that refugees are welcomed in this area and help facilitate this process by coordinating local service provision and coordinating the immense public will to help;
  • Write to the Prime Minister to assure him that the country stands ready and willing to help at this time of crisis.

Still more than two thousand long-term empty homes in Southend-on-Sea

The empty homes numbers for Southend-on-Sea provide enlightening reading.

The current tally is 2277 (, which whilst the lowest figure for eleven years is still high enough, for instance, to solve the “where do we house the refugees” question.

This number is for what is described as ‘long-term’ empty homes – this does not include those properties temporarily vacant (between lettings, for instance), and whilst some will be unsuitable for immediate re-use, many will be able to help solve part of the local housing crisis.

Local authorities do have powers to put these homes back into circulation, and whilst it is not always straightforward, it is made simpler if the will is there. Councils can compulsory purchase, take over land, enforce sale, require that a property be made safe, as well as issue empty dwelling management orders.

I have highlighted the issue of empty properties in Southend-on-Sea on a number of occasions, and in a time of unaffordable housing this is a situation that causes me much regret. This regret is enhanced when one considers the plight of the homeless and those fleeing persecution and death.

Welcoming refugees to Southend-on-Sea

I was delighted to be able to speak at the Southend Welcoming Refugees event this week; the huge turnout spoke volumes itself about the importance of the issue. There can be no doubt that there are very many within Southend-on-Sea who are deeply concerned about the unfolding tragedy that is Syria, and the affect this is having on thousands of innocent people.

Of course, there are those who think we should not be helping those abroad, often citing ‘charity begins at home’ and pointing to those in need here. We do need to look after our own, but I do not see this as an either/or situation; we can, and should, help as many as we can. We are, after all, sitting comfortably within the top ten wealthiest nations.

I am acutely aware of the housing crisis and homelessness in Southend-on-Sea, and I have involved myself in these issues. I do not pretend that it is easy to find housing for either refugees or the homeless, nor will it be easy to find the money to do this. To do nothing, to not even try, is untenable.

My grandfather fled Belgium in 1914, and so I owe my existence to the generosity of the British in giving him, and thousands like him, a home. Many came here over the centuries fleeing persecution and warfare, as well as seeking a better life. Many have also left these shores, and a glance at the map of the world shows where the British have settled. I hope we are not to deny our heritage and history.

The local authority is offering home to ten refugees, and I am grateful for this. I am hoping, though, that we can be a bit more generous. That number is a mere fifth of our proportionate share of the total number being welcomed to these shores, and I think that Essex generosity will go beyond doing the bare minimum.

The smallest things can make the biggest difference to asylum seekers facing destitution

This is copied from the Refugee Council website

Destitution is a huge problem amongst asylum seekers, one that pushes them to the brink of our society. Asylum seekers have to wait months or years for the outcome of their asylum claim, during which they are prohibited from working and only receive minimal or no financial support. They are entitled to just £35 a week of cash or card support, that is £5 a day. This has to cover everything – food, toiletries, clothes etc. – as well as travel costs to get to crucial legal appointments or asylum meetings. As a result, asylum seekers are reliant on charities and their limited social networks to make ends meet.

They are severely marginalised in our society, often sleeping rough and living an isolated life without knowing who to turn to.

They also face significant barriers to accessing healthcare, activities and social networks. It is important that destitute asylum seekers are afforded the same respect and care as anyone else in our society.