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Refugees and Wokingham

by Prue Bray on 18 September, 2015

Last night the council debated what it could do in response to the refugee crisis.   Unanimity broke out, I am pleased to say.  We all agreed that we would welcome our fair share of refugees and do what we could to help them, including by providing information for residents on what they could do.

Churches Together asked a question about the issue too.

The debate was on a motion I submitted.  Keith Baker was the other speaker.  It was good that all in the Council chamber agreed, and that the Conservatives seconded the motion.  Here is what I said:

“Sometimes things happen which put the normal cut and thrust of this Council chamber into stark perspective. The current Syrian refugee crisis is so heartbreakingly appalling that all our usual disagreements pale into insignificance. Millions have been displaced by war, violence, and persecution. They are hungry, homeless, and without hope, living in makeshift accommodation in camps in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, or risking death, exploitation and – sadly – hostility and hatred, fleeing to Europe.   Although Syrians are the most in the news at the moment, they are not the only refugees. We must not forget Afghans, Eritreans, Somalians and many others. We should be so grateful that we are lucky enough to live in a safe country when so much of the world is so unsafe.

We can express that gratitude by offering help to those who need it so badly. I know that many people want to offer that help. But it is not always clear what to do for the best, or what will be the most useful. Locally, the council is the most obvious organisation to be in a position to co-ordinate information, or signpost people to national and local groups and charities and other bodies like the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees), and that’s why I put this motion together.

At the point at which I submitted the motion, it was unclear exactly what councils would be asked to do as part of the government’s plans for taking Syrian refugees. I took it as read that this council area would take its share of refugees and that it would do so willingly. I am sure that will be the case.   refugees welcome

The final thing I want to say is that on Saturday I was on the “refugees welcome” March in London.   Alongside the professionally produced banners there were many, many homemade placards. One said “Decent Countries Welcome Refugees”.   A lot has been said by some about immigration and immigrants in the last few years, but I still believe Britain is fundamentally a decent country. We will welcome refugees. We will do our best to help them wherever they are in the world. And the council and residents of Wokingham Borough will play their part in that effort.

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