Radio Sandwell Local News

Council boss: We will offer safe and welcoming haven to refugees

2015-09-03 22:46:11

Syrian RefugeesA Syrian refugee who has been brought to the UK under the government resettlement scheme

Birmingham will offer a safe and welcoming haven to refugees fleeing war in Syria and will work with Government and aid agencies to support them, a council chief has promised.

But Labour council cabinet for Inclusion & Community Safety James McKay said they are working with national Government, faith communities and aid agencies to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

However he would not confirm if the council will honour a pre-election pledge by leader Sir Albert Bore to the Citizens UK lobby group to take in 50 refugees from the war torn country.

The group has said its members are ready with offers of accommodation, support and English classes to help settle refugees arriving in Birmingham.

Earlier this year the city council voted to bid for City of Sanctuary status – which means that any new arrivals the Government agrees to help are encouraged to settle here.

Coun McKay (Lab, Harborne) said: “National and local government, the third sector and faith communities need to find a way, collectively, to respond more rapidly to the humanitarian crisis unfolding across Europe and provide proper support for refugees.

“Birmingham has a proud history of being a welcoming and inclusive city and we are keen to do whatever we can to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

“We’re working closely with other local authorities and agencies to understand exactly what support would be available to enable us to do this.

“I am also meeting with City of Sanctuary later this month to explore the issue further and develop plans that are appropriate for Birmingham.”

In March the Citizens UK assembly at the University of Birmingham heard pledges from representatives of all main political parties, including Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper, to step up Britain’s efforts to take in between 750 and 1,500 Syrian refugees – and Birmingham leader Sir Albert Bore agreed the city would take in 50, Citizens UK had found a social landlord willing to provide homes.

The assembly also heard from Noura, a mum-of-four and former fashion designer from Homs, who is now settling in Birmingham after fleeing the conflict. She said: “I was detained, hung by my wrists, beaten with the butt of a rifle and given electric shocks. I was lucky to be resettled.”

Now Citizens UK are challenging the city council to honour the pledge in the light of the growing crisis.

Spokesman Saidul Haque Saeed stressed the campaign is not about open door immigration, but providing a home to desperate refugees as Britain has always done.

“People like mothers and children who have been tortured, abused and traumatised by war and persecution. Working with the UNHCR they would be those who have been identified as the most needy.”

He said they had campaigned for the settlement of 1,500 UNHCR refugees with pleas to each council to take 50 people each and a number, including Birmingham, had agreed.

“We were sad to see the further increase in desperation and the plight of refugees unfold on our TV screens over the summer holidays. As civil society we take responsibility too, so in Birmingham our membership and supporters have made offers of accommodation, befriending support, English classes to assist our council in fulfilling its pledge to resettle 50 UNHRC refugees to Birmingham.”

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