Syrian refugees in Leeds '˜should learn English so they are not tempted by Sharia law'

A councillor says Syrian refugees arriving in Leeds should be helped to learn English as soon as possible - to stop them being 'tempted' to live under Sharia law.

EQUALITY PLEA: Councillor Neil Buckley.
EQUALITY PLEA: Councillor Neil Buckley.

Conservative councillor Neil Buckley was addressing a panel of Leeds City Council colleagues when he made the remark during a discussion about the Syrian refugee crisis, and how recent arrivals in Leeds are doing with settling in, learning English and accessing services like ESOL language classes.

Leeds has welcomed around 50 Syrian refugees in the past few months, and will become home to a total of 225 in the next two years.

Coun Buckley, a Conservative ward member for Alwoodley, said “not enough emphasis is put on the English language”, adding: “We want to treat them completely equally under the law, but in order to do that, they have to learn English to take full part in be part of the English system and not be tempted down - let’s just say - Sharia law or anything like that”.

Clarifying his comments after the meeting, councillor Buckley told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “The whole point of what I said really is about equality. I have always said that everybody should be treated equally.

“When immigrants come to England, they need to expect they will be treated equally and in the fullness of time be [fully contributing members of society].

“The point that I was making is that ignorance breeds discontent. If people don’t know the English language, they will not to be successful”.

Asked to explain his choice of words - and his reference to Sharia law when not all immigrants or refugees are Muslims - he said: “It may have been a bit clumsy. All I am trying to say is we don’t want people to live separately. We don’t want Anglo-Saxons here. Muslims there, Hindus there and Jews over there.”

Sharia is a body of Islamic law and principles developed over centuries and the word means “path” in Arabic but the term has fallen into use more broadly to describe extremely strict interpretations of the religion practiced by authoritarian regimes in some countries.