Lewisham and Greenwich councils have both passed motions rejecting laws described by asylum seeker supporters as “anti-refugee”.
Lewisham passed its motion at a meeting on November 23, while Greenwich councillors passed theirs at a meeting on Wednesday, as part of the Borough of Sanctuary movement.
Both councils upheld that they believe that the Nationality and Borders Act and the offshoring policies are “fundamentally anti-refugee laws that undermine internationally-recognised rights for people fleeing war and persecution to seek safety”.
They resolved to “call on the UK Government to withdraw the UK-Rwanda agreement, repeal the Nationality and Borders Act, and work with Local Authorities and communities to build a refugee protection system that treats all people with dignity and compassion.”
In Lewisham, the cabinet member for Communities, Refugees and Wellbeing, Cllr Juliet Campbell, proposed the motion: “As a Borough of Sanctuary, we have a responsibility to uphold the commitments outlined in this motion, and to actively protect sanctuary seekers in our borough.”
Lewisham is the first recognised Council of Sanctuary in London.
Four councillors spoke on behalf of the Lewisham motion, with many of them calling the Government’s approach to sanctuary seekers “cruel,” claiming they undermine obligations outlined in the Refugee Convention and are incompatible with international human rights.
Council members were urged to remember that “words matter,” and that the asylum process is a “gruelling, failing” system, made worse by the Nationality and Borders Act.
They criticised the Government’s divisive rhetoric, with one councillor saying: “we must be visible, vocal and active in order to counter this poison.”
Another said that being a Borough of Sanctuary was a “verb that we do, not only a noun for what we are”, urging the council to commit to actively pursuing sanctuary policies.
In Greenwich, which is seeking to become a Council of Sanctuary, the cabinet member for Health and Adults’ Social Care, Cllr Denise Scott-McDonald, put forward the motion as an “extremely strong message of support for many vulnerable people in our communities”.
She was supported by other councillors, who condemned the Government’s approach to those seeking asylum, and who called for safe and legal routes, while expressing deep sympathy for those who lost their lives on Wednesday while crossing the English Channel.
Pictured top: Campaigners for refugees (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Alisdare Hickson)