Cllr Martin Tiedemann is a councillor in Brixton Hill ward. Below is the speech he gave to Lambeth Full Council on Wednesday 21st July proposing Lambeth Labour’s motion on supporting refugees to make Lambeth their home.
When my parents came to this country fifty years ago this year, they arrived in a Britain still ambitious to offer a welcoming and supportive environment to people from around the world. My father came on a student visa, and never left. My mother on effectively a spousal visa, and she’s still here and now a UK citizen. For them, coming to this country and leaving family and friends behind was to pursue their dreams and above all, to be together.
The Latin American community I grew up with here also has many what some term ‘economic migrants’. But there were also Chilean trade unionists, fleeing to this country despite the support for Pinochet from many in the British establishment. There were artists, whose creativity put them at risk from right-wing governments. And there were gay men and women, for whom a job in London actually meant the ability to be themselves, to love who they wanted, and for some access to HIV treatment they were denied at home.
Today there are still millions around the world who see this country as a place of opportunity, of freedom, of sanctuary. The triple threats of conflict, climate and Covid mean thousands continue to leave their homes, embark on dangerous journeys through deserts and across seas, and to send their children unaccompanied across borders in the hope they might have a better, safer life. Leaving your home, your homeland, your family, your belongings is never a choice any migrant makes lightly. For many, it is a choice they make because they have no other. Yet the immigration system under the Conservatives is devoid of compassion and competence.
The Dubs scheme for unaccompanied children was closed after accepting just a fraction of the children promised shelter. Criminal gangs continue to profit from human trafficking, there have been delays in the time taken to process asylum cases and people have been housed in dangerous and unsuitable conditions.
The Conservatives have abolished the Department for International Development and voted just days ago to uphold the cut of billions to international aid, removing the UK’s key vehicle for tackling the forces that drive people from their homes in the first place.
The Tory hostile environment didn’t end with Theresa May’s ‘go home’ vans. When we see Uber and Deliveroo drivers being stopped by the police in Tooting accompanied by immigration officers, we know what’s going on. Black, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latino residents know what’s going on. The hostile environment isn’t just hostile to those who don’t have the appropriate right to stay in the UK. It is hostile to all migrants. It is hostile to people of colour. It co-opts councils, schools, doctors, employers, landlords to be hostile on the Home Office’s behalf.
Whilst we welcome the NHS commitment to ensure undocumented migrants can access Covid vaccines and know Lambeth GPs are working to deliver this, we see the real effects of the Tory hostile environment when, as reported in the Independent at the weekend, 75% of GPs apparently would refuse to register an undocumented migrant and deny them vaccine access. GPs feel they must enforce the hostile environment when it’s not even expected of them, even if that reduces vaccine take-up and puts all of us at greater risk. That’s the effect of the hostile environment.
The government have also shown disregard to the EU workers serving in our NHS and left thousands in limbo with the incompetent Settled Status scheme, whilst unfair visa charges and the NHS surcharge penalises pandemic heroes. Many LGBTQ+ refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK have been forced to go through the most inhumane, intrusive and degrading processes. A system devoid of compassion. Devoid of competence.
So our motion calls for the re-establishment of safe and legal routes, including the reopening of the Dubs Scheme, and recommits Lambeth to playing its part in offering unaccompanied child refugees a home and a life.
We will ensure that this Council, rather than exacerbating the hostile environment by collaboration with the Home Office, offers sanctuary and support to migrants and refugees. We call for a route for undocumented migrants to seek settled status so they can continue to play a part in our community. We pledge to protect every Lambeth resident by ensuring all migrants, documented or undocumented, can access proper health advice and services.
Above all, we call for a fairer, more compassionate system that recognises the extraordinary contribution that people from overseas have made to our country.
Cllr Martin Tiedemann