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Renewing our commitment to Refugee Resettlement May 2021

This week we were delighted to announce that we are set to expand the Council’s refugee resettlement support contract to the Refugee Council.

The Refugee Council provides excellent support and advice to refugees and asylum seekers, and this contract will enable us to support up to 100 refugee families. The support provided by the organisation will include making initial arrangements for new arrivals, such as transport to their accommodation and supplying food, as well as providing ongoing integration support, including English lessons and pathways into employment.

Lewisham’s refugee resettlement programme is the most ambitious in London and is the Council’s keystone commitment in making Lewisham a genuine Borough of Sanctuary for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.

Already, 33 families from Syria and Iraq have found sanctuary here, and we are committed to help even more, as well as unaccompanied children seeking refuge.

We are pleased to continue our partnership with Refugee Council in providing integration support for our refugee families, especially helping with any vulnerabilities they may have, so that can lead the best possible lives here in Lewisham and play a full part in our diverse community.

Some recent feedback from our refugee families include:

“I feel very fortunate to be resettled to Lewisham where I have a very happy life and the local community is cooperative and supportive to us as well as diversified by nationalities.”

“We are very lucky to be in Lewisham borough. The council helped and supported all the families in the following way; allocating support workers who provided us with intensive support in these difficult circumstances and they found for us many private English lessons. They also arranged intensive support meetings regarding housing and how to save on energy bills and many other amazing activities. They also linked us with volunteers to help us with practicing English and integrate in the society. We are very thankful for all the help you provided us with in order to help us settle here.”

However, the long term future for refugee resettlement in the UK remains uncertain. Earlier this month Lewisham Council responded to the public consultation on Government’s New Plan for Immigration. Read our response to the Government's public consultation on their New Plan for Immigration. Our national immigration system is flawed in many respects and it deserves a wholesale review. However, the overall approach proposed by the New Plan would actually make the system far worse, both in the welfare of those seeking to live here and in the wider interests of our country.

We agree that the UK asylum system must be reformed to better protect those seeking sanctuary, but these proposals do not improve the system. They fail to strengthen safe and legal routes, punish those who are forced to arrive via an irregular route and risk forcing more vulnerable people into destitution. This will disproportionately impact women and children.

We are particularly concerned that the proposed changes will create a two-tier asylum system by punishing those arriving in the UK through an irregular route, which would restrict their access to settlement and family reunion and affect thousands of women and children each year. Not only would that be a breach of the UK’s international legal obligation under the 1951 Refugee Convention to provide asylum regardless of the route taken, for the vast majority of those arriving via irregular routes there is no viable alternative for them to be reunited with family members.

We are ready and willing to welcome many more in the future; however, without national targets and committed government support, local authorities and our delivery partners will be unable to plan ahead with a very real risk that many resettlement opportunities will be lost.

These points are among many made in our response to the consultation, which we found disappointing in parts because of the leading nature of many questions, the premise of which we do not accept. We have nevertheless used the open questions to set out our concerns and alternative proposals.

We hope the Government will reconsider the proposed approach so that our country can maintain its reputation as a protector of those fleeing conflict and persecution and truly value the contribution that migrants make to our communities in Lewisham and elsewhere.

Cllr Kevin Bonavia

Cabinet member for Democracy, Refugees & Accountability

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