Borough of Sanctuary
Get involved - take the Sanctuary Pledge
If you're an individual or an organisation, please pledge your support to asylum, migrants and refugees in Lewisham by signing our Borough of Sanctuary pledge.
Once you've pledged your support, we'll keep you updated about our Sanctuary programme with our regular newsletter. We'll also send you details of Sanctuary events in Lewisham, and a digital pack to help you share information on social media:
- take the Sanctuary Pledge
Lewisham - the first Borough of Sanctuary
At a time of increased pressure on people with uncertain immigration status, we are proud to have been recognised as the first Borough of Sanctuary by the national charity ‘City of Sanctuary’, who awarded us the title of ‘Council of Sanctuary’ in May 2021. This is the first time a council has been awarded this honour.
The award follows our corporate strategy to be an open and welcoming borough. To make this commitment real, we helped create the Lewisham Migration Forum, which is comprised of local organisations that provides services and other support to migrants.
On World Refugee Day, June 20, 2023, we celebrated the resettlement of our 100th refugee family in our borough.
What is a Borough of Sanctuary?
As the UK’s first Borough of Sanctuary, we welcome those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries and protect the rights of all migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. The Lewisham Migration Forum coordinates our collective effort to make our borough as welcoming and inclusive as possible.
Our aim is to encourage individuals and organisations across our borough to join us in enacting the principles of the Cities of Sanctuary movement. These are:
- offer a positive vision of a culture of welcome and hospitality to all
- create opportunities for relationships of friendship and solidarity between local people and those seeking sanctuary
- recognise and encourage partnership working and network development across localities
- identify opportunities for practical action and work on common cause issues to effect change within and across communities (turning empathy into action)
- celebrate and promote the welcome contribution of people seeking sanctuary
- engage people seeking sanctuary in decision making processes at all levels and in all activities promote understanding of asylum and refugee issues, especially by enabling refugee voices to be heard directly
Our work as a Borough of Sanctuary
Our first task was to encourage as many individuals and organisations as possible to join us in confirming their commitment and pledging to making Lewisham a Borough of Sanctuary. Our own commitment was enshrined in our Borough of Sanctuary strategy.
We then worked to enact the principles of sanctuary, and this process continues:
- we have a policy of resettling vulnerable refugee families from Syria, Afghanistan and other areas of conflict and in June 2023, we're celebrating our 100th refugee family in our borough
- we are committed to providing care to unaccompanied child asylum seekers and have signed up to the Safe Passage’s pledge to accept an additional 100 children over the next 10 years
- we are offering advice and support to people who have come from abroad to live in the borough, including:
- we are working with voluntary organisations and businesses to support people seeking asylum in rebuilding their lives
Borough of Sanctuary strategy
In 2020, we appointed the country’s first Sanctuary Officer to oversee the implementation of our Borough of Sanctuary strategy which was approved by Mayor and Cabinet on Wednesday 11 November 2020.
Our strategy sets out a comprehensive approach to embedding sanctuary principles across all Council services so that the challenges particularly facing refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are considered and addressed in the way local services are provided. Some examples include:
- removing the Home Office’s embedded officer in the Council’s No Recourse to Public Funds service and using saved funds to pay for independent legal advice
- ensuring that all Lewisham GP practices sign up to Doctors of the World’s 'Safe Surgeries' scheme so that everyone can safely visit every GP practice in the borough to obtain medical advice they are entitled to
- refusing to collaborate with the Home Office on the new immigration rules on rough sleeping
- training our frontline staff to better understand the needs and entitlements of sanctuary seekers
- acting as a lead member in the City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network, sharing good practice and supporting other local authorities in becoming Boroughs of Sanctuary
Campaigning for change
We recognise that we are limited by law and national policy in our ability to provide support to refugees, asylum seekers and refugees. So we also campaign for change alongside other councils, national charities and our local partners in the Lewisham Migration Forum. Campaigns include:
- coordinating the successful campaign by 16 London councils calling on the Government to resume refugee resettlement
- joining the campaigns such as the ‘Lift the Ban’ which calls for the right to work for people who have claimed asylum and have waited more than 6 months for a decision - read more about our involvement in the 'Lift the Ban' campaign
- challenging the Government’s plans for immigration reform - read our response to the Government's public consultation on their New Plan for Immigration
- condemning Home Office treatment of asylum seekers and calling for the Government to improve living conditions in asylum accommodation