Lewisham Council approved a set of policies to make the borough welcoming for sanctuary seekers.
After almost two years of launching the campaign to become a Borough of Sanctuary, in 2020 the Lewisham Migration Forum witnessed the approval of Lewisham Council’s Sanctuary Strategy at the Mayor and Cabinet meeting.
Along with a member of one of Lewisham’s refugee families, the chief executive of Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network (LRMN) spoke at the meeting at 18:00 on Wednesday 11 November 2020.
Since LRMN first set up the Lewisham Migration Forum in 2018, they have campaigned to make Lewisham a Borough of Sanctuary for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
And from the very beginning securing the Council’s commitment to create a borough of sanctuary has been a key priority as it is crucial in tackling the many challenges many refugees, asylum seekers and migrants face not only in Lewisham but in the whole country.
Since 2018, the council has already done many things. They welcomed refugees from Syria and MENA countries, they publicly endorsed Lift the Ban campaign, they removed the Home Office embedded Officer from the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) team, and provided school meals to children of NRPF families and more.
However, there are more complex and controversial issues we still need to face, discuss and make a stand on – for example on the creation of safe and legal routes for refugees and migrants, the NHS charging regime, the homelessness and destitution amongst refugees and migrants and more. Here in Lewisham, the Home Office recently opened a hostel for asylum seekers. Over a hundred people are currently being housed at the hostel and we are gathering reports that they are not being treated well.
The Lewisham Migration Forum and the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network will continue to campaign against the hostile environment. We will engage people with lived experience so they themselves can tell their own stories, and because we have direct contact with them, we will let the Council know the problems they encounter when they access various council services so these can be addressed. We will be the Council’s partner in the implementation of the sanctuary plans.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE WILL ACT AS THE COUNCIL’S CRITICAL FRIEND AND REMIND THEM, JUST IN CASE THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN THAT WE HAVE A COMMON GOAL.
Becoming a borough of sanctuary for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants is a deep commitment which requires cultural change, political will, community engagement, resources and great respect for human rights. It is a long and difficult journey but we believe that by working together we will get there one day.