Councillors united in support for resettling Afghan refugees in Camden

Members asked whether they would consider taking in a refugee in their own homes

Tuesday, 14th September 2021 — By Richard Osley

Luisa Porritt

Lib Dem group leader Councillor Luisa Porritt brought a motion to the meeting calling for more support for Afghan refugees

COUNCILLORS have been asked to consider taking in refugees at their own homes as Camden works to resettle people fleeing Afghanistan.

The Town Hall has a strict lock on saying exactly how many people will be given a new life in the borough, and the locations of hotels which are being used on a temporary basis remain confidential for safety reasons.

But the council is open about its intention to help those fleeing the Taliban’s new rule and is searching for new housing and relief supplies as part of its response.

Last night (Monday), councillors debated what they should provide and how to ask the government for more resources.

Members from all sides supported the idea of welcoming refugees although there was disagreement over the exact wording of a motion brought by the Liberal Democrat group.

Councillor Luisa Porritt, the former MEP and Lib Dem leader in Camden, said that a government figure of how many should be allowed to move to the UK should not be capped at 20,000.

“This emergency humanitarian issue affecting the Afghan people goes beyond party lines. Councils across the country are rightly being asked to step up and support Afghan refugees who’ve sadly been put in an incredibly vulnerable position, forced to flee their home country due to a deadly threat to their fundamental rights by the Taliban,” she said.

“It’s important for the government to set out a far more ambitious plan for the number of Afghan refugees we welcome to our country. Twenty thousand should be the starting point, not a target.”

Cllr Porritt added: “We also believe this council can set a precedent for other councils in London and around the country by welcoming as many refugees from Afghanistan as possible for long term resettlement. We need to go further than simply providing temporary accommodation and supplies to these individuals and families. As much as that initial support is hugely important and appreciated, after all the trauma they’ve experienced, they need a place to call home.”

Labour councillor Awale Olad, who was one of the first to call for Camden to be a ‘city of refuge’ during the Syrian crisis in 2015, said: “The long-term response and service provision must have central to it the rebuilding and improving of the long-term mental health of our new refugees.”

He added: “Educating new children possibly coming into our schools will also be critical. Camden offers a great start in life for our young people and the opportunities we offer to our residents should be fully open and utilised by them [the refugees who arrive in Camden]. Housing and education is important, but we should also encourage our business network across the borough to support with on-the-job training and employment.”

Labour councillor Awale Olad, back row, speaking at the meeting

Former mayor of Camden Richard Cotton, also a Labour councillor, told the meeting that everybody in the room could do something to meet the crisis – some in their own homes.

“We’re talking about what the government should do and what the international community should do, and what the council should do,” he said.

“But perhaps we should ask ourselves what we could all individually do. There are charities we could give to – and I’m sure many people have. And if you have the space, you might like to consider hosting a refugee.”

Cllr Cotton added: “There are organisations like ‘Refugees At Home’ who will help you to do that. So please think on that, because we’ve always asked for other people to do things. All of us have a responsibility.”

‘Be far more ambitious’: Luisa Porritt says there should not be a 20,000 limit on the number of refugees coming to UK

New Lib Dem councillor Nancy Jirira said that councillors had so far been told that “only 175 of the Afghan families have been taken up by London boroughs”.

Her party’s motion had called on Camden and the government to do more.

Green councillor Sian Berry suggested this could include securing housing grants from the Mayor of London to provide homes for refugees.

The Labour administration questioned whether some members were aware of all of the work that Camden had been doing since the Taliban took control of Kabul and Afghans tried to escape their home country due to the confidentiality around it.

The Conservatives followed a policy of not voting on foreign policy issues that their group said Camden could not affect – the same approach was taken during Brexit debates in the chamber.
Its members asked for text of motions which appeared to show the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan to be removed.

But they were also clear that they supported the offers of help to Afghans.

“We’ve seen medievalists take over that country – that were ousted 20 years ago. We’ve seen millions of people oppressed and perhaps soon to be oppressed,” said the leader of the opposition Councillor Oliver Cooper.

“And we’ve seen a need for the entire global community to step up to the plate and give refuge to those people that had none in their homeland.”

Camden Council leader Councillor Georgia Gould said: “We are being asked as a community to pull together again, and we’ve all seen the horrific scenes in Afghanistan and the humanitarian crisis there and Camden has always been somewhere which steps up as a safe haven.”

She added: “When people are seeking refuge, we absolutely will be that place again. Unfortunately, across London, there have been thousands of people placed into hotels without any support, any food, anything at all. And it has been local government that has had to step in – and certainly in Camden, our community have come together in extraordinary way.”

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