Sian Berry calls for urgent action to help Syrian families in danger

1 September 2015

Councillor Sian Berry has joined forces with LibDem Councillor Flick Rea to call again for the council to house vulnerable Syrian refugee families.

In April, Sian proposed a motion to the council that Camden should take up calls by Amnesty and Citizens UK for Councils to help house families in need. The response was that the Council would take no action immediately but think about doing more in the future.

With many vulnerable people in serious danger both in Syria, and risking dangerous journeys to claim asylum when they reach here, the two councillors have written to the leader of the Council this week.


1 September 2015

To the Leader of Camden Council, Cllr Sarah Hayward


Dear Sarah,

Housing Syrian families

We are writing to you now as we think it's time to call again for the Council to offer homes to some of the many vulnerable Syrian refugee families.

We jointly put a motion to the council in April, asking the Council to explore how Camden could take part in a concerted way in the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme to resettle the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. We were sure at the time that Camden residents and many of our fellow Councillors would feel the absolute moral imperative of the Council participating in the scheme in the way that campaigners including Amnesty and Citizens UK are urging.

The motion wasn't heard, but a response to its points was received in June. In this you say that you are willing to consider this question again and to ‘continue to look at what more we can do to provide assistance’.

With the situation in Syria worsening, and with the vulnerable families we could take also among the most vulnerable to the people traffickers who are leading so many to awful deaths in the Mediterranean and in hazardous overland transit, we believe the situation is now so urgent that Camden must step in.

We realise the help we could give as a borough would, in practical terms, not make a dent in the problems of displaced people overall, but it would make the world of difference to those families we housed, and would at least be one more helping hand reaching out from our citizens to people suffering unimaginable hardship and fear.

Please consider this request again and help make Camden a beacon of hope in these tragic times, not another closed door.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Siân Berry
Highgate Ward       

Councillor Flick Rea
Fortune Green Ward 


Response to our motion received in June:

Camden has a proud tradition of welcoming people fleeing strife from all over the globe. The diversity of our borough is built, in part, on us opening our arms to those in need. There is a crisis in the Mediterranean as refugees flee the murderous so called Islamic State, Al Shabab and other terrorist groups.  The civil war in Libya seems to be creating safe haven for the despicable people smugglers that will prey on some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens.

It has been deeply upsetting to watch the crisis unfold and thousands die as European and world leaders sit by and offer no assistance.

It is for this reason I tentatively raised the issue of whether London’s councils could combine to offer some assistance back in April.  At that point appetite was scant for a variety of reasons.

Councils are already obliged to ensure help for refugees.  The costs of doing so from the Home Office are not, and never have been, fully met.  Changes to the benefits system brought in by the last government make it even harder for councils in areas with high housing costs to assist.   The benefits system no longer provides adequate funds to afford most housing in Camden.

That said I am keen that we continue to look at what more we can do to provide assistance.  It is clear though that Camden cannot act alone or the costs, at a time of swingeing cuts to our budget, will become unbearable.

At the time of writing European interior ministers were discussing this issue again.  The briefing in advance of that meeting from Home Secretary Theresa May did not fill me with confidence that the current UK government is willing to take its share of the burden in supporting those fleeing one of the most barbarous regimes of recent history.

This does appear to be more evidence that the Conservative government has some sort of ‘strategic retreat’ policy.  Leaving a world stage we once led.

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