Councillors back plans to welcome more child refugees to Brighton and Hove

Councillors backed plans to welcome more child refugees in Brighton and Hove days after Holocaust Memorial Day.

The cross-party motion won support from Labour, Green and Independent councillors.

Green councillor Leo Littman made the case for Brighton and Hove City Council’s chief executive Geoff Raw to write to the Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Councillor Littman wants Mr Raw to reiterate the council’s offer to house child refugees and to support the principle of safe passage for children trapped abroad when their families are in Britain.

He told the full council that he was a descendant of migrants, with family members who died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

At Hove Town Hall this evening (Thursday 30 January) he said: “Here in Brighton and Hove, we pride ourselves on our humanity.

“We have so much to offer young refugees. We have the first sports club of sanctuary, the first youth club of sanctuary, schools, colleges and GPs of sanctuary.

“The council provides an outstanding team of social workers, who have the specialisms needed to take good care of young refugees, and we have the wonderful Hummingbird Young Leaders Scheme.”

He told councillors how he had heard from Elaine Ortiz, founder and director of the Hummingbird Project, how child refugees waiting in Calais to be reunited with their families were beaten and sexually abused.

He added: “For lone child refugees with family in the UK, the current regulations giving them the right to be reunited with their families in the UK are quite literally a lifeline.

“Without it their future is bleak, uncertain and quite often desperately short.”

Labour councillor John Allcock seconded the Green councillor’s motion and criticised the government for turning its back on child refugees.

He said that the council was currently supporting 35 children in care and 81 young asylum-seekers who had experience of the care system – and was about to take an additional six unaccompanied children.

He said: “We are proud to be a City of Sanctuary that is a refuge to all in need. It is a central priority of this Labour administration and is a pillar of our joint working arrangement with the Green Party.”

The council heard how one asylum-seeker who arrived as an unaccompanied child had since become a trainee nurse.

Green councillor Steph Powell said that Unicef had described the current child  refugee crisis as the worst since the Second World War.

Councillor Leo Littman

Conservative councillor Samer Bagaeen said that the council’s support for refugees was “dismal”.

He said that he was born in Jordan which had a history of taking in refugees including from its war-torn neighbour Syria.

He read an email from Emma McDermott, the council’s head of communities, equality and third sector, which said that the council agreed to resettle 10 households in 2015 and 10 more in 2019.

So far the council had resettled 13 households and was expecting a further 14.

He said that the council had welcomed one unaccompanied child, a Syrian family of two adults and a child, and 13 Syrian households under the government’s Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Programme, with a further four expected.

Councillor John Allcock

Before the debate, Ahmad Yabroudi, the chairman of the Sussex Syrian Community and a member of the management of Sanctuary on Sea, thanked councillors for all their help in supporting his community.

He said: “When you’ve escaped war to make a new life in this lovely city, what often hurts most is being separated from your family.

“Sometimes our children must travel to safety alone, like baby Moses, floating in his basket down the Nile.

“It’s agonising when we know our son, daughter, nephew or niece has managed to reach Europe but is stuck somewhere.

“What can the council do to help children avoid dangerous journeys and find sanctuary in Brighton and Hove?”

Councillor Amanda Grimshaw

Labour councillor Amanda Grimshaw, the council’s lead member for equalities, said: “Brighton and Hove continues to participate wherever we can in government schemes to support children coming to the UK.

“I am pleased to continue to work with the City of Sanctuary on our growing network of schools of sanctuary to improve the situation for refugee children in the city.”

The motion was backed by Labour, Green and Independent councillors. To cries of shame, the Conservatives abstained from the vote.

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