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Refugee Week: Southwark calls on government to make refugees welcome

24 June 2022

This Refugee Week, Southwark Council has worked with the City of Sanctuary network to shine a spotlight on the needs of refugees and their experience of the UK asylum system while urging government action.

Cllr Alice Macdonald, cabinet member for equalities, neighbourhoods and leisure, has written to the Home Secretary, together with over 20 councils from across the country and across party lines (see full list below) to voice their concerns over the current situation:

  • As of 16 June 2022, 660 Ukrainian families arriving in the UK have presented themselves as homeless to their local council, including 180 families with at least one child. Councils often struggle to find accommodation for refugees due to a shortage of social housing, and insufficient Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which in many areas does not meet local market levels for rented accommodation.
  • Almost one year on from the beginning of mass displacement from Afghanistan, the Home Office has no long term plan to resettle the 37,000 refugees – including 12,000 of Afghan origin – who remain in hotel accommodation across the UK at a daily cost of almost £4.7 million.
  • As of 14 June 2022, over 20,000 visa applications made by Ukrainian refugees remain outstanding.

Cllr Macdonald said: “This week we have celebrated the contributions of refugees to our society. However their bravery and resilience continues to be tested by an asylum system fundamentally working against their resettlement. We write to the Home Secretary so that we might work together to ensure refugees become valued members of our communities with compassion, clarity and ease.

“Local councils leapt into action to support 77,200 Ukrainian nationals who have sought refuge in the UK following the outbreak of conflict in their country. But our collective efforts have been hampered by a lack of leadership in co-ordinating our work and explaining the proper routes for safeguarding. We need consistency. We need open information sharing. We need adequate funding.

“Thousands of refugees find themselves waiting to be processed for prolonged periods in unsuitable, overcrowded accommodation or having to make homeless applications to local councils who are left to foot the bill with no additional support from government. This is not a welcome you would wish on anyone seeking refuge. We must be a country of sanctuary for those who need it.”

Siân Summers-Rees, Chief Officer at City of Sanctuary UK, said: “This is an important letter about urgently needed changes which would ensure that people fleeing violence and persecution can find sanctuary in our communities. Local Government, together with communities and the third sector, are best placed to welcome people of sanctuary seeking background so it is great to see so many council leaders from across the country calling for a kinder and fairer refugee protection framework.”

In the letter, the Government is urged to take six key measures that would transform the UK’s asylum system. These include:

  1. Ensure that councils are provided with appropriate funding including to support those Ukrainian refugees presenting as homeless to local authorities.
  2. Urgently improve the Home Office’s communication and data sharing with councils to ensure that refugees from Ukraine can be resettled safely as soon as possible via the Ukraine Family Scheme;
  3. Uplift Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to the thirtieth percentile to reflect the current rental market, and enable local authorities to procure refugees private rented sector accommodation, and provide additional funding for Integrated Care Systems, in order to resource the additional pressures placed on local health services who provide healthcare for refugees;
  4. Take action to accelerate the Home Office’s processing times for asylum claims and implement measures to improve the wellbeing of asylum claimants during their time in initial, dispersal and contingency accommodation;
  5. Take forward local authorities’ submissions to Government’s consultation on the full dispersal model, and implement a long term plan for the resettlement of refugees that integrates them into communities and in residential accommodation, with the involvement of local communities and the third sector;
  6.  Undertake a fundamental re-haul of the UK’s asylum system to ensure that it is fair, humane and treats refugees with the compassion they deserve.

Those who have signed the letter to the Home Secretary

Cllr Alice Macdonald, Cabinet Member for Equalities, Neighbourhoods & Leisure, Southwark Council

Cllr Juliet Campell, Cabinet Member for Communities, Refugees and Wellbeing, Lewisham Council

Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet member for Social Justice, Community Safety & Equalities, Birmingham City Council

Cllr Siriol Hugh-Jones, Deputy Leader, City of Brighton and Hove

Cllr John Tippett-Cooper, City of Sanctuary Champion, Winchester City Council

Cllr Jason Brock, Leader, Reading Borough Council

Cllr Dr Aysha Raza, Cabinet Member for Tackling Inequality, Ealing Council 

Cllr Kemi Akinola, Deputy Leader of Wandsworth Council

Cllr Roulin Khondoker, Executive Member for Equalities, Culture and Inclusion, Islington Council

Cllr Alan Waters, Leader, Norwich City Council

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, Tower Hamlets Council

Cllr Jim Dickson, Cabinet Member for Healthier Communities, Lambeth Council

Cllr Marcia Cameron, Cabinet Member for Healthier Communities, Lambeth Council

Cllr James-J Walsh, Cabinet Member for Culture & Leisure, Lewisham Council

Cllr Craig Whitby, Deputy Mayor, Cabinet Member for Corporate and Finance, Mansfield District Council

Cllr John Adams, Cabinet Member for Housing, Gateshead Council 

Cllr Nadia Shah, Cabinet Member for The Voluntary Sector Cohesion & Equalities, Camden Council

Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor of Bristol (Children, Education & Equalities), Bristol City Council

Cllr David Rouane, Leader, South Oxfordshire District Council

Cllr Jas Athwal, Leader, Redbridge Council

Cllr Claire Cummins, Cabinet Member, Housing Services, Bury Council

Cllr Steve Bridger, Leader, North Somerset Council

Cllr Natalie McVey, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Health, Malvern Hills District Council

Cllr Bridget Petty, Cabinet Member, North Somerset Council

Cllr Catherine Braun, Deputy Leader, Stroud District Council

Cllr Andy Brown, Leader of Green Group, Craven District Council 

Cllr Kate Halliday, Shropshire Council

Cllr Tony Pearce, Stafford Council

Cllr Brian McDaid, Skipton Town Council

Page last updated: 24 June 2022

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