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A Borough of Sanctuary

Our borough has a proud history of supporting refugees and migrants. At a time of increased pressure on those with uncertain immigration status, we are proud to have been recognised as a 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

Borough of Sanctuary award logo

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:

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:

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