A Borough of Sanctuary
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
What is a Borough of Sanctuary?
The Lewisham Migration Forum is continuing to coordinate the collective effort behind Lewisham becoming a Borough of Sanctuary, welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries and protecting the rights of all migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees.
Our aim is to get individuals and businesses in the borough to join us in enacting the principles of the Cities of Sanctuary movement. These are to:
- 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 to create a Borough of Sanctuary
The 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 and other areas of conflict and we plan to welcome an additional 100 families over four years.
- 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:
- non-UK EU citizens on the implications of Brexit
- residents affected by Windrush
- residents experiencing hate crime
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 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.
- Promoting Doctors of the World’s “Safe Surgeries” scheme so that undocumented migrants can safely visit every GP practice in Lewisham to obtain medical advice and receive Covid vaccines.
- Guaranteeing that no child in Lewisham should be denied free school meals because of their immigration status - Lewisham Council's policy on Free School Meals for NRPF children.
- Refusing to collaborate with the Home Office on the new immigration rules on rough sleeping
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:
- Co-ordinating the successful campaign by 16 London councils calling on the Government to resume refugee resettlement.
- Calling for a suspension of the No Recourse to Public Funds conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. See our letter to the Home Secretary regarding suspending the NRPF condition (PDF)
- Joining the campaigns such as the ‘Lift the Ban’ which calls for the right to work for those who have claimed asylum and have waited more than 6 months for a decision. Read more about Lewisham's 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.
Support for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants during COVID-19
We are actively providing specific support for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants during COVID-19 including advice in various languages and promoting vaccination through web seminars and pop-up clinics. Find out more on our website.