Notice of Motion B
Proposed by: Councillor Paul Baker
Seconded by: Councillor Tabi Joy
On the 25th March 2019 this Council unanimously supported a resolution, proposed by Councillor Wilkinson and seconded by Councillor Boyes, to recognise the work done by Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees (CWR) and for Cheltenham to adopt the title of Town of Sanctuary.
In doing so, the authority sought to take practical steps to welcome and include refugees and to support them wherever it can. It also pledged to deepen its work with Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees, to build new links between them, the council's partners and other local organisations to support and provide inclusive and accessible activities.
It further committed to supporting activities that promote the education and training of refugees, enabling them to better integrate into the town and play an active role in the success of our local economy and creating sustainable communities.
Since 2019 the Council has been a very proactive Town of Sanctuary offering a place of safety and welcoming both refugees and asylum seekers from across the world.
Actions include :
- Providing homes for 31 Syrian families and 7 Afghan families and looking to house a further 20 Ukrainian families and 1 Afghan family this year
- Working in partnership with GCC and the 6 district councils to see how we can best respond to support people seeking asylum, this includes attending regular meetings e.g Migrant Resettlement meetings and Gloucestershire Operations Partnership Forum meetings.
- Working in close partnership with Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS), CWR, the South West Strategic Migration Partnership and Clearspring Ready Homes
- Facilitating meetings to discuss support for asylum seekers with for example CTFC and CBC Communities Partnership and Wellbeing Team, undertaking a survey of newly arrived asylum seekers to see what activities they would be interested in and contacting local football and cricket teams.
- Worked with the Everyman Theatre and other partners to organise the 'Walk with Amal' for Refugee Week 2022, a festival to reminder us all of the displaced children worldwide who are forced to flee their homes due to war or violence. The procession by the 'Little Amal' 3.5 m puppet was a huge success.
- In addition a considerable amount of work has gone into supporting those fleeing from Ukraine with housing and supporting hosts.
To further enhance Cheltenham's strong record of welcoming, supporting and helping both refugees and asylum seekers we now request that the council appoints up to 4 Refugee Champions. The role of these Champions will include but not be limited to :-
- Promoting the work of GARAS and CWR with Council colleagues and within their communities.
- Helping to forge new links within our communities and schools to support and engage with refugees and asylum seekers.
- Correcting the rhetoric and highlighting the positive contribution that refugees and asylum seekers can play, and do play in our town, they are an asset, not a liability.
- Working with CWR to support new initiatives to help and support refugees and asylum seekers in our community
- Inspiring groups such as residents’ associations to run events to raise funds for refugee charities and to support refugees and asylum seekers within their local community
Sadly Government language towards refugees and asylum seekers is often unhelpful, inaccurate and unashamedly hostile. Cheltenham Borough Council seeks to distance itself from such rhetoric. We recognise that refugees and asylum seekers are fleeing their homes due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. We recognise that no one would want to leave their homes, their communities, their families and friends and everything they have ever known and enjoyed unless they were in fear of their lives. We absolutely believe that refugees and asylum seekers should be treated with respect, understanding and kindness.
Finally this Council resolves to :-
- Condemn the Illegal Migration Bill which it considers to be a breach of the fundamental tenets of international human rights law;
- to write to our MP, calling on him to do everything he can to withdraw this appalling legislation :
- To commit to resourcing an asylum system that can deliver fair and timely asylum decisions, so saving millions of pounds of tax payers money on temporary and often unsuitable accommodation.
- To allow refugees and asylum seekers to work at the earliest opportunity so they can begin to rebuild their lives, become more independent and contribute to our society and our economy.
In proposing the motion, coincidentally on the first day of Refugee Week, Councillor Baker firstly reflected on the positive progress made by CBC and CBH since Cheltenham adopted sanctuary town status 2019. He now seeks to further develop that progress with four refugee champions to work with and promote the aims of Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees (CWR), and to record CBC’s strong objection to the Illegal Migration Bill currently going through parliament.
As trustee of CWR, he has met many refugees and asylum seekers, and finds it a humbling and rewarding experience. These inspiring people, often with young children, have fled appalling circumstances, risking their lives in search of safe and secure future. We are all incredibly lucky to live in safe and beautiful town and country, no one wants to be ref or a seeker, and should be proud of Cheltenham’s progress over the last few years, in particular the hard work of Richard Gibson and team at CBC and Nigel Potter and team at CBH.
He also acknowledged the support of the Everyman theatre, and the many local schools who have welcomed the children of refugees and asylum seekers - these children are so happy to be at school, making friends, engaging with community. He praised CWR, which does an amazing job, providing practical, emotional and social help and support, and thanked Cheltenham Town Football Club for providing tickets for matches.
The four refugee champions can help promote activities in the council and to the wider community in variety of ways, some of which are suggested in motion.
Cheltenham is a friendly, welcoming and generous town, and the vast majority of the population maintains those values. The UK’s incredible record of welcoming those fleeing war, conflict and persecution is now sadly damaged by government’s latest Illegal Migration Bill, which is widely condemned and will be thrown out by the House of Lords.
The simple answer is to provide safe routes and prompt processing of asylum applications, which will save millions of pounds in hotel accommodation. Economic migrants and those fleeing safe countries such as Albania should be returned, but most asylum seekers are granted refugee status. They have a huge variety of skill sets much needed in the UK since Brexit, and should be allowed to work at the earliest opportunity.
The Rwanda plan will not save the tax payer any money and is, as described by the Archbishop of Canterbury, morally unacceptable, and yet is supported by Cheltenham’s MP. The least Council can do is express its unanimous dismay and ask him to reconsider.
Seconding the motion, Councillor Joy said CWR has been operating for eight years, and has achieved an immense amount through volunteer engagement, both supporting displaced people and helping them settle in Cheltenham, and liaising with the public to dismantle harmful ideas about refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees come from many different countries, with different individual circumstances, and it makes moral good sense to share what we have. People reciprocate so much – they want to give back to the community by volunteering or giving blood – and they don’t see themselves as refugees, just a people doing what they can to survive and protect themselves and their children.
CWR has an overwhelming workload, including highly trained legal professionals working on individual cases, in a situation which is changing all the time. She welcomed any attempt of the council to be proactive and give all the support it can, and said no-one should be complacent – although the UK doesn’t have laws objectively based in moral standing, showing solidarity with others and helping turn their lives around from immeasurable trauma.
Many members gave the motion their full support, shared their own experiences and made the following comments:
- it is humbling to see what CWR does to help refugees and asylum seekers and the motion is welcomed;
- the government’s Illegal Migration Bill is a repugnant piece of legislation, an attempt to stop the boats, when what is needed is simply safe and legal routes and efficient processing of applications. If people are not supposed to be in the UK, they will be returned; if they are, they must be welcomed;
- hosting a Ukrainian has been a privilege and an education; this person is working long and hard days, paying tax and national insurance, and has made a life in a foreign country, which isn’t easy at the best of times. We cannot do enough to make sure people’s time in Cheltenham is happy, and additional support for the work of CWR and GARAS is to be welcomed;
- it is vital that the council and town lead the way as the crisis grows, revealing the UK’s shameful and dehumanising asylum system to be in tatters;
- it is impossible to explain the level of gratitude an asylum seeker feels for a country which has allowed them to stay. Since Brexit, there has been an increased ‘othering’ of outsiders – a broad range of groups, not only asylum seekers – but we should welcome them, not judge them. People who should know better refer to the ‘will of the British people’ in reference to the Illegal Migration Bill, but conservative voters needs to seek deep within their hearts and recognise that this is not the Britain we know and love;
- the Corporate Plan refers to residents and communities being able to thrive, not just survive – this should be on every council document. The motion is one step on the journey;
- not only GARAS and CWR, but many community groups – schools, colleges, churches – go a long way to welcome refugees and asylum seekers. Cheltenham is a town of sanctuary, and it will be good to ensure there is enough housing for those who need it;
- while supporting the spirit of the motion, and recognising that asylum seekers deserve our help, there are still many illegal immigrants without any right to be here;
- immigrants are only labelled illegal because someone has said they are. We are extremely privileged to be UK citizens, compared with those people who live in danger and take huge risks to get here. If they are simply economic migrants, they should be returned to their homes or go through the proper immigration route. It isn’t for us to say whether someone is legal or illegal.
Councillor Baker thanked Members for their comments. He reminded them that the government has changed the rules regarding asylum applications – the only way to apply is to be on British soil, and 70% of those who apply are allowed to stay. The government is making everyone who arrives an illegal immigrant.
RESOLVED (28 in support, 4 abstentions)
- to approve the motion