38 Degrees | Please act now on #RefugeeCrisis

Many residents have been using the 38 Degrees email your local council site to contact me about the current refugee crisis

 There have been too many images of desperate human beings risking their lives, trying to find a better life within the EU. These people are fleeing war and persecution. They are not making these journeys to ‘drain our economy’ by ‘sponging off the state’.

I live in your ward. And I am very disappointed with how the government have handled this humanitarian crisis. It feels as though all forms of compassion and decency have been lost, and those in need are seen as figures rather than humans.

The recent images of the 3 year old boy’s body washed up on a beach in Bodrum has had a huge impact on me. It is our responsibility as a nation to make a difference and act now to help those in need.

We have to act now. I’m urging you to announce how many families our council will take in.

This is my response:

Thank you for contacting me via the 38 Degrees campaign.

I don’t want Britain to be the kind of country that turns its back as people drown in their desperation to flee places like Syria.

Exeter has a great history of helping asylum seekers and refugees – the city did a marvellous job with the Afghans and Iranians who were sent here back in 2000 under the dispersal system – and I hope and wish that as a city councillor I can ensure that Exeter City Council and the residents of Exeter will play its part in the future of new refugees and people seeking asylum.

As you are aware, there already has been some movement from David Cameron in the past few days, but I want to make it clear that, even if our Government says it won’t accept refugees coming to the UK, Exeter is prepared to play it’s part and that the Government should rethink.

On Friday 03 September, the House of Commons Library published a new report about the current state of play on Syrian Refugees and the UK – download that report here.

I trust – like me – that you have already signed their Refugees welcome in Exeter petition

At the beginning of last week, Yvette Cooper made a very passionate speech on the Refugee Crisis, where she demanded that our British Government to show leadership – and called on the Labour Party, all parties, cities, towns and communities across the country to support the Government when they finally do act.

She said it is “Time to ask cities, towns, communities how much they each can do to help

“If every city took 10 refugee families, if every London borough took 10 families, if every county council took 10 families, if Scotland, Wales and every English region played their part, then in a month we’d have nearly 10,000 more places for vulnerable refugees fleeing danger, seeking safety.

“10,000 instead of 200.”

So we are currently looking at ways to address some practical issues that arise when looking to put this plea into action and so ECC are having conversations on how to progress this as a matter of urgency.

And as a direct consequence of the challenge from Yvette, ECC Leader Cllr Pete Edwards issued a press statement on Friday 04 September 2015

He and my co-cllr Heather Morris in her role as Lead Councillor for Customer Access [which covers this issue] met with the Home Office and the SW Migration Partnership in June to talk about Exeter – and neighbouring local authorities – becoming part of the new dispersal framework for people seeking asylum.

I also know that Heather has had exploratory meetings to discuss the possibility of Exeter becoming a City Of Sanctuary but as yet no concrete proposals have come forward.

Express & Echo: City of Sanctuary: Exeter offers sanctuary to migrants [30 April 2015]

Further details of any such scheme might emerge in the coming weeks following a conference being organised by Citizens UK and the Refugee Council – details of which are just being finalised.

Citizens UK have already published a Resettlement Campaign: Local Organising Guidewhich outlines simple steps we can take to move from anger and sadness to action on how we can make a practical difference.

So how can local residents help?

Its been suggested to me that ECC work with Exeter CVS to compile a list of residents prepared to open their home to a refugee, or refugee family – however, I am aware that Refugee Support Devon [RSD] have already set-up something similar:

If you are willing and able to offer a spare room to a refugee or asylum seeker (either as a short-term emergency option or in the longer term) in the Exeter area please send your details (name, address and what you are able to offer) to Clare Henry who is collating all the information

 Her e-mail address is: cphenry@btinternet.co who will be in touch if/when there is someone who needs somewhere to stay!
Many residents have asked me about who to donate to:
Exeter Calais Solidarity   are collecting useful things to take to the NGO Auberge des Migrants who are working with refugees in Calais. – http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/
In particular they are seeking for donations of the following CLEAN items:
• Men’s clothes (small to medium size, warm, clean, durable)
• Men’s trainers and wellies
• Sleeping bags (preferably good quality & waterproof)
• Tents
• Space blankets/emergency foil blankets
* strong waterproof boxes (with lids) to store and transport all the lovely donations
Their Facebook page has more details on what’s badly needed, always needed and not needed!
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They are collecting at Exeter Friends Meeting House, Wynards Lane, Pavilion Place, Exeter, EX2 4HU opposite Magdalen Chapter Hotel (used to be Barcelona) and please use Magdalen St car park, just across the road, if you are bringing donations
In addition, along with similarly minded people in Totnes, on Tuesday 01 September they set up a crowdfunding scheme with a target of £400 to provide basic provisions for refugees at Calais.  As I write they have raised £2,835 – that’s 719% of their target raised inside a week.
On Friday 11 September,  Exeter Cathedral will be opening the doors of the West Front at 5.30pm to hold a short public silent vigil for refugees and those seeking asylum.

Don’t forget that to accompany the National Day of Action there will be a Exeter Solidarity with Refugees event between 12:00 and 14:00 on Saturday 12 September – location still to be decided as I write.

And to finish – on Friday 04 September, the General Committee of Exeter Labour Party unanimously passed an emergency motion calling on the Parliamentary Labour Party to demand there should be a European-wide agreement in which each country agrees to take a quota of refugees based on factors such as national income, population size and land mass.

I’m sure that there’s loads I’ve missed, but as you can see that ECC – and the residents of Exeter – have started to address this humanitarian crisis.

Happy to continue the conversation.

Paul

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