Volunteers urge Camden Council to help find homes for more refugees
The Town Hall should appoint a councillor specifically to deal with resettlements, campaigners say
28 November, 2016 — By Richard Osley
Issy Good speaking at Monday night’s full council meeting
THE Town Hall was thanked this week for resettling Syrian refugees in the borough, and then told to do much more.
Volunteer groups said the refugee crisis was so severe that Camden Council needed to press ahead with finding more homes for men, women and children displaced by Isis, the civil war in Syria and the destruction of the migrant camp in Calais.
Camden has resettled more people than any other London borough, but members of the Citizens UK group urged councillors to find empty homes quicker and to increase the numbers coming here.
Campaigners who spoke in front of Monday’s full council meeting acknowledged that the council had shown a “resolute commitment” to helping, but Bradley Hillier-Smith, from Citizens UK, said: “We urge the council to be more proactive in seeking housing by encouraging more landlords to come forward, by looking into empty homes in the borough and making contact with property guardian companies, and by becoming more efficient in inspecting and securing properties offered by private landlords.”
Mr Hillier-Smith added: “We call on the council to put in place an advisory board or councillor assigned to refugee resettlement.”
Another Citizens UK volunteer, Issy Good, said: “In Islington, they have a specific councillor who looks after refugee resettlement and this leads to efficient communication. It helps properties to be very quickly filled. Recently, a home in Islington was found and filled within two weeks.”
The group said it had a network of volunteers, including Arabic speakers, and “civil society” organisations ready to help.
A deputation from the Habeas Corpus Project, a law centre in King’s Cross, also called on Camden to extend its role in helping refugees.
In general, Camden councillors feel the Town Hall has shown it is “doing its bit”, the phrase used by Conservative councillor Andrew Mennear at the meeting, while other local authorities have not offered to help.
Green Party councillor Sian Berry and Lib Dem councillor Flick Rea were the first to raise the plight of the refugees and the possibility of Camden doing more to help last year, suggesting the borough could become a “beacon of hope”.
Labour housing chief Councillor Pat Callaghan said at Monday’s meeting that Camden had been “very, very proud” of its efforts so far but it was always ready to discuss ways it could help.
She said: “Sixteen households, which means 59 beneficiaries, including 23 children, have been resettled in Camden, where they are being supported to settle into the community.
“Eighteen of the children are attending six different primary schools and one secondary school. The younger children are involved in nursery provision. The council will resettle a further four households in December, so 16 more beneficiaries.”
Cllr Callaghan added: “For two of the properties, we were contacted directly by members of the public. We thank them very much.”