Last summer, people across the world were shocked by the awful scenes of desperate families crossing the Mediterranean to flee conflict in Syria and across the Middle East. The crisis produced an outpouring of support and calls for the UK to act: but unfortunately, this was not matched by the government when it came to the speed or depth of its response. Last September, as David Cameron faced pressure to accept more Syrian refugees, Lambeth Council made clear that we were willing to play our part in taking those fleeing conflict. While the Prime Minister did relent partially on numbers, the UK has still only pledged to take up to 4,000 Syrian refugees per year, much less than was called for by charities and international organisations.
Last month, the government performed another u-turn on taking in 3,000 more unaccompanied refugee children. This is very welcome, after weeks of prevarication by ministers, and was only possible after the campaigning by Lord Dubs and Yvette Cooper MP on this issue.
We stand ready to welcome those children who arrive in Britain alone after fleeing war-torn regions of the world and we have made the government aware of that. We have already found homes for a number of families who arrived in the UK as refugees from Syria earlier this year and I met with the first such family to arrive in the borough recently. They have escaped the type of appalling suffering we are witnessing on television every night and we have a responsibility to look after them and provide a home where they can finally feel safe.
Lambeth has a long history of offering refuge to people who have fled the most terrible conditions in other parts of the world and that is something we will live up to. The government was slow to provide details of the arrangements for refugee families for months following the September announcement and we hope the Government will respond quicker on the issue of unaccompanied children so we can get on with this vital work as soon as possible.
A number of community groups and individuals in Lambeth have asked how they can help in the effort to find homes for unaccompanied children arriving in the UK. While it is unclear how the children will be brought to the UK and allocated homes around the country, as the Home Office is still finalising details of the operation, we welcome any such offers of support. Lambeth’s specialist fostering and adoption services can offer advice and assistance to anyone who feels they might be able to offer a home to a vulnerable young person, at http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/fosteringandadoption/.
Councillor Lib Peck
Leader of Lambeth Council