Lambeth Deputy Leader Paul McGlone blogs on the refugee crisis and what Lambeth has done to welcome refugees to our borough
Our greatest strengths as a borough are rightly regarded as being our tolerance and our diversity. Lambeth has always been a welcome home to all, including refugees and those fleeing persecution and hardship elsewhere. It is in that spirit that we have been determined, as a council, to play our part in welcoming refugees fleeing the crises in Syria and across the Middle East.
Last year, we lobbied the government to accept more refugee families - and we're proud to have settled four families already, as part of our commitment to welcoming twenty families in the next couple of years.
We were the first council to offer to welcome unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, following the passage of Lord Dubs' amendment in May.
And I travelled to Calais in August with other councilors to lobby the government to make that promise a reality - thankfully, after much delay, they have started to act last week.
As a council, we currently look after 27 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, which we are sure will now increase in the coming days and weeks. This requires a great deal of work from our specialist teams in our Children’s and housing services, particularly in finding suitable foster placements and accommodation, and ensuring that the families and children are properly cared for.
This has only been possible because of the incredible support of South London Citizens and the people of Lambeth - who have signed up to be foster carers, sourced appropriate accommodation, donated clothes and other essentials for those here and in Calais and worked with us to properly welcome refugees to our borough.
Home office campaigners invoke the story of Paddington bear to urge the government to look after unaccompanied children.
Last month, we held a fantastic welcome event for our Syrian refugee families at St Gabriel’s College (who were one of the very first Refugee Welcome schools in the country). The pupils, staff and community there have done a tremendous amount, with Citizens UK, to push politicians to take serious action on this issue and to provide the support to make it happen. We continued to maintain that pressure at a Citizens UK event yesterday at the Home Office with Lord Dubs and other campaigners to call on this government to honour our fine tradition of welcoming those in need, to work with charities to identify those refugee children eligible to come to the UK and to provide specific support and funding for these arrangements.
We’re very grateful for their efforts, and those of all the community groups who have worked so hard on this.
Now, more than ever, we need that welcoming spirit to continue - and we particularly want to encourage those who could consider fostering an unaccompanied child refugee to find out more here. We also want people to share it with friends or neighbours if they think they might be able to help.
Together, we can ensure Lambeth remains a tolerant and welcoming place for all.