By John Clifton
On Tuesday, Salvationists from a number of different Corps (Ilford, Raynes Park, Stepney, Camberwell, Southwark) as well as William Booth College & Territorial Headquarters joined with nearly 900 organised people from member institutions of civil society alliance, Citizens UK. We came together at Old Palace Yard, Westminster near Houses of Parliament to remember the 6 children who froze to death in the Syrian refugee camps last winter. We also came to present three asks to our Prime Minister and government in relation to Syrian refugees and the United Kingdom. These asks were:
- Will you resettle at least 1000 Syrians by Christmas?
- The government has recently announced the creation of a private refugee sponsorship scheme. Will you work with Citizens UK to make sure that any privately sponsored refugees are in addition to the 20 ,000 that the government has already committed to?
- Will you continue to work with Citizens UK to make sure that Britain plays a full and leading role in responding to this crisis as long as it endures?
Powerful testimonies were heard from people who came to the UK as refugees, people who are offering their homes, and a Syrian refugee whose family could have been saved were a private sponsorship scheme in place.
Tim Farron MP (Leader of the Liberal Democrats), Angus Robertson MP (Leader of the Scottish National Party’s Parliamentary Group) and Yvette Cooper MP (former Shadow Home Secretary and Chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce) were in attendance. Unfortunately, despite the invitation, no representative from the Conservative Party was able to be present. For this reason, the first ask was amended to whether they, or someone from their party, would ask a question at Prime Minister’s Questions for Mr Cameron to resettle at least 1000 Syrian by Christmas. Mr Robertson was noncommittal. Ms Cooper responded with ‘yes’ to each ask, as did Mr Farron. However, the question was not asked to Mr Cameron the next day at PMQs. This is disappointing as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that they have at least 1000 refugees ready and waiting to move to the UK.
The next key step in the campaign is a confirmed meeting with Richard Harrington MP (Con) on November 5th who is Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Syrian Refugees.
There was opportunity to celebrate significant wins in the campaign to resettle more Syrian refugees including over 40 local councils having committed to resettle 3047 refugees, over £3.5 million worth of scholarships have been created from at least 15 universities around the country to fund 147 places for Syrian students (with special recognition for the University of East London as being one of the first to announce that they would create a scholarship fund to help 10 Syrian students worth £120,000.
The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, made the point that the governments response so far has been “too low, too slow and too narrow.” We hope that the meeting with Richard Harrington MP proves fruitful, and honouring of the nation’s tradition of offering hospitality to those who need protection.
In the meantime, what can you do to take this campaign forward?
- Please go and see your MP to ask them about supporting the call to resettle 1000 before Christmas.
- You can join or start a campaign team to get your local council to sign up to resettlement. To see if there is a team in your area, please see the website: www.refugees-welcome.org.uk
- Help Citizens UK to find landlords that you know, or approach letting agents.