We’ll offer safe haven for Syrian refugees, say Yorkshire council bosses

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Town hall leaders in Yorkshire today pledged to offer a safe haven for refugees from Syria after the Prime Minister revealed the UK will take on thousands more people from camps bordering the war-torn nation.

After David Cameron announced that the UK will increase its efforts in response to the growing migrant crisis, local councils in the region have faced calls to accommodate desperate and vulnerable refugees.

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg wrote to the leader of Sheffield city council calling on the authority to consider accommodating Syrian refugees, while MP Greg Mulholland urged his local council, Leeds, to do the same.

In a statement, Leeds city council leader Judith Blake said city wanted to play its part in efforts to resettle refugees from Syria and had been “working quietly behind the scenes to live up to the Leeds City of Sanctuary status”.

She said that a number of Afghan families have been successfully settled in the city over the past couple of months and that the first Syrian people are due to arrive in the coming weeks.

She said: “We have been witnessing the most devastating horror in the news as terrible human tragedy is escalating as a result of the conflict in Syria.

“Desperate people are battling to keep their families alive as they are displaced from their homes and it is our responsibility as a city and a nation to help.

“Normally we would not discuss our efforts to help people fleeing unspeakable horror so we can protect them as they settle in to their new lives. We want to reassure people that Leeds is playing its part in supporting people whose lives have been torn apart and will continue to do so.

“We are also calling on the government to give us some clarity about their proposals and how we as local authority can respond to them.

“Leeds has a long and proud history of welcoming people from many different countries and we would not be the city we are today without our rich and diverse communities from all over the world.”

Councillor Isobel Bowler of Sheffield city council said the migrant crisis was an international issue and that “the British government, along with those of other countries, needs to make a national response”.

She said: “In Sheffield we have a well-documented history of helping those fleeing persecution. We take part in the Government-funded Gateway programme and have done so for the last 11 years. We currently have a funded agreement with the Home Office to resettle 130 refugees this year.

“The current refugee crisis is a great concern to us. Along with other local authorities we have already made it clear that we will participate in a national programme to resettle refugees.

“We will work with the Home Office regarding a resettlement of Syrian refugees in our city as part of the national response to the crisis.”

Councillor Erin Hill of Kirklees council said in a statement that the authority was “committed wholeheartedly” to supporting efforts to find a home for refugees.

She said: “We are currently looking at practical ways we can assist with this crisis.

“There will be a point where, perhaps through the Local Government Association, we have to ask government for help with the costs, but that time is not right now. Our efforts now must be to offer the safe haven these desperate families need.”

She added: “This is not a debate about open door immigration. It is about us providing a home – as Britain has done in the past - to desperate refugees. People don’t undertake such incredibly dangerous journeys to Europe unless they have absolutely no other option.”