Camden and Haringey council leaders pledge to house Syrian refugee families

Camden Council leader Cllr Sarah Hayward has said the borough can offer homes to 20 Syrian families – as Prime Minister David Cameron bowed to public pressure and announced the UK will take in nearly 20,000 Syrian refugees.

Cllr Hayward has been at the forefront of negotiations to accommodate more of nearly four million displaced Syrians, after a photograph showing the dead body of three-year-old Aylan al-Kurdi washed up on a Greek shore helped turn the tide of public opinion.

Cllr Hayward said: “We’ve made an offer to take 20 families.

“We would be prepared to take more if we could. This is based on demonstrating that relatively small numbers could make a big difference.

“If every local authority stepped up to do the same, the UK would end up taking 20,000 families, as opposed to the 216 individuals that the UK has taken under the scheme so far.

“We know that we can afford to take 20 families. We think it’s the government’s responsibility to step in and deal with it, but we can afford the 20 families without additional assistance. If we took more, that funding would have to come from central government.”

Cllr Hayward stressed that Camden would not be acting alone as London Councils, the representative body for all of the London boroughs, issued a joint statement asking the government to take urgent action.

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Prior to the announcement from Camden Labour, Cllr Sian Berry of the Greens and Cllr Fick Rea of the Lib-Dems jointly wrote to Cllr Hayward in the Ham&High urging her to “make Camden a beacon of hope in these tragic times and not another closed door”.

Cllr Berry, the Green Party mayoral candidate, called on Boris Johnson to do more to assist the refugees, suggesting that disused fire and ambulance stations could be opened up to house those in need.

Cllr Hayward said that whilst this might be an interim solution, she believes refugees deserve proper housing in the long run.

She said: “Disused facilities as a place of safety is fine for the short-term, but if we’re going to take refugees then I think they deserve be treated like human beings, which isn’t camping on the floor of a disused fire station.”

Cllr Hayward said she believes the majority of local people would be welcoming towards Syrian refugees arriving in the borough.

She said: “Overwhelmingly the response has been very positive nationally and in Camden. People have legitimate concerns about immigration, but in this situation, people want to help these very vulnerable people who are fleeing literally for their lives.

“I am aware of many Camden residents who want more to be done in all sorts of ways. We have people offering their rooms, people wanting to be able to donate to the humanitarian charities, and many of our church groups want to see what they can do to help.”

As MPs returned to the House of Commons following the summer recess, David Cameron this afternoon laid out the government’s plans to aid those fleeing Syria, saying the UK had a “moral responsibility” to resettle refugees living in camps bordering Syria, and also making every effort to help end the conflict.

The international aid budget will be used to help house people, and vulnerable children and orphans will be prioritised in what would be a “national effort”, Mr Cameron said.

He announced this afternoon that he will take in nearly 20,000 Syrians who have fled their war-torn country by 2020.

Debate has raged in the mainstream media and online over whether or not the UK should offer sanctuary to large numbers of refugees, given the current shortage of social housing and continuing cuts in funding to local authorities.

Despite the sympathy and goodwill many people have expressed towards the displaced people of Syria, some took to social media to express concern over the strain which could be placed on public services by an influx of refugees.

Whilst the hashtag #refugeeswelcome trended on Twitter over the weekend, other tweeters appeared frustrated at the prospect of refugees being given housing.

In July, 23,000 people were thrown off the waiting list for housing in Camden after changes in eligibility criteria for council homes.

Haringey Council Leader, Cllr Claire Kober, said that Haringey was also prepared to help with the current crisis.

Cllr Kober said: “Haringey has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees to our borough and we are committed to playing our part in supporting those affected by this devastating crisis.

“We are ready to step up to support those fleeing violence, and to work alongside other London boroughs to do all we can to help those in need.

“It is essential that central government offers adequate funding to address the crisis and to enable local councils to offer the right support, and we will continue to lobby for this.

“Long-term planning and a co-ordinated response is essential to being able to provide effective support for refugees and the local communities eager to help them.”