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Letter to the government from Council leader & sanctuary on sea, calling for a compassionate asylum program

Branded Green background with Green Party logo top right and text: letter to the government from Council leader & sanctuary on sea, calling for a compassionate asylum program

APPROACH TO SAFE PASSAGE & ADEQUATE SUPPORT FOR REFUGEES

Dear Secretaries of State,

We write as Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council in conjunction with local charity Sanctuary on
Sea which, alongside other community groups, is committed to the welfare of refugees. Together,
we are deeply concerned about the approach being taken to ensure safe passage to the UK and to
provide adequate support upon arrival.

We are aware of the pressure that the government is rightly facing to take a greater number of
refugees fleeing the current conflict in Ukraine. However, the war in Ukraine is another sharp
reminder that the asylum system in this country is not fit for purpose. We desperately need a
compassionate national response to people- Ukrainian, as much as Afghan, Iranian, Yemeni,
Eritrean and Syrian- fleeing indescribable pain and suffering. This is especially the case as there will
be an anticipated increase in dangerous boat crossings with more people being displaced through
the effects of climate change.

Councils and communities, such as ours in Brighton & Hove, stand ready to play our part in
supporting those fleeing war and devastation. We are one of many councils participating in the
‘Cities of Sanctuary’ network, that aims to offer compassion, understanding and provides support
to those seeking refuge from devastating circumstances.

However, we want to again urge you and your colleagues to rapidly provide greater resource and
support for local authorities such as our own which are experiencing greater demand for services
in response to an increasing refugee crisis. In addition to the increasing numbers of dangerous
boat crossings, with more people displaced from their homes by conflict, we are now acutely
aware of United Nations analysis demonstrating that the number of war refugees from Ukraine
already tops 2.3million and is likely to rise. Although we have listened with interest to the Home
for Refugees announcement, we are concerned that it is councils in the south of the country, in
coastal areas and at the border, that are likely to face unprecedented demand for help. We are
keen to offer more support to all those fleeing war and persecution but stand without sufficient
government funding and support to do so adequately.

This call for proper resources for councils seeking to play their part in supporting refugees is not without precedent. Mere months ago, the Home Office placed unaccompanied asylum-seeking
children in hotels in our city without warning and despite concerns about suitability of this type of
accommodation. This only underlines our concerns that support for refugees is not well matched
with available resources, and that the government has no clear plan to meet its moral obligations
to support those fleeing devastating conflict nor to address the housing crisis that exacerbates
this.

In response to the hotel placements, we were pleased to see that government responded to our
calls to set up a form of mandatory transfer scheme, replacing the previous, failed ‘voluntary’
participation in schemes to help refugees. The mandatory scheme has temporarily helped to share
and spread resources more widely across the country and alongside the winter weather, has
meant that there are no longer child refugees in hotels in the city. However the Home Office
expects numbers to increase when the weather gets warmer and in order for councils to support a
greater number of refugees, and for the UK to truly respond to the current war in Europe, a clear
outline of the resources you will offer to local authorities under an expanded mandatory scheme is
now needed.

Unless clear plans for funding and resources are provided, we fear those seeking asylum will once
again be housed by government in unacceptable conditions such as hotels due to lack of
appropriate housing alternatives. The wider housing crisis and lack of affordable homes of course
significantly play into this challenge.

Sponsorship scheme

We welcome the opening of the ‘Homes for Ukraine,’ sponsorship scheme that will allow
Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored by individuals or organisations who can
offer them a home, such as a spare room or self-contained unit. We are sure that the compassion
of people in our own city will rise to this call as they have done many times in the past.

At present we are awaiting the detail promised on the support to local councils. While we are
relieved to see there will be provision of funding, suggested to be at a rate of £10,500 per person
to local authorities- half the tariff for Afghans or Syrians on the ACRS and VPRS programmes- we
are concerned that this amount has been set centrally without consultation with local councils in
areas where sponsors will be supported. Local councils are best placed to advise on the level of
funding that would be appropriate to meet costs and need in their area and on the capacity of
existing teams to offer such help.

We are already receiving questions from residents rightly concerned about the provision and
duration of wraparound care, including availability of social workers, trauma informed specialists,
interpreters and assistance with education and training. I draw your attention to the latest reports
from the Local Government Association that show, for example, the shortage of available
children’s social workers has reached a five year high, with the number of vacancies increasing
year on year. More than eight in every ten councils are now overspending in their children’s social care budgets to meet increasing demand. Such workforce and demand pressures are issues
mirrored locally in Brighton & Hove, with the council recently forced to make significant budget
cuts to accommodate demands on children’s services costing upwards of £2.3 million.
To be clear, residents deserve support in managing the complexities of sponsorship and councils
will require additional capacity to deliver it to the scale and high standard we would wish to.
Rather than setting the amount of support to local authorities centrally, we would welcome
engagement with councils who are well placed to manage and cost schemes locally.

Therefore we would appreciate more detail on the following:
• How does the government intend to ensure the recruitment of sufficient numbers of staff
to support highly vulnerable adults and children, given existing teams are already stretched
on current caseloads? Will funds also be provided to voluntary and community sector
groups well versed in the provision of suitable support to refugees?
• Sponsors will be subject to safeguarding checks. This is entirely appropriate as many have
pointed out the risk of exploitation associated with the scheme, but who shall be asked to
manage this and with what capacity?
• How will government ensure that local councils are adequately resourced to meet needs
and will funding provided reflect the true costs of services in the area, particularly in cases
where there are significant numbers of approved sponsorship applicants in the local
community?
• How can local community organisations, charities and voluntary groups be enabled to
meet additional costs arising from positive partnership working around these schemes?

We are also concerned to see that the limited and restricted scheme for Ukrainians also stands at
odds with less favourable schemes applied to those fleeing conflict from elsewhere, such as in
Afghanistan and Syria, for example. In addition, the continued push to secure the Nationality and
Borders Bill in Parliament contradicts ministers’ professed support for refugees, given the Bill will
make it even harder for those seeking sanctuary to find safe passage to the UK. Councils are
unable to offer more support to refugees fleeing conflict than government will allow, and at
present there is a damaging lack of safe and legal routes to enter the UK, and a criminalisation of
those who arrive by other means or who are without visas.

Summary requests

In summary we urge you to:
• Urgently establish coherent, compassionate policy toward refugees that is applied equally
and shows solidarity and compassion to all refugees, regardless of country of origin; with
routes for safe passage.
• Enable local councils and communities seeking to support refugees to better support the
expected increased number of refugee arrivals through a clear funding mechanism, that
will unlock access to housing, local support services, social workers and trauma specialists,
as well as enabling community organisations to step in;
• Through the above, end the practice of placing refugees and unaccompanied asylumseeking children in unsuitable hotel accommodation;
• Continue the mandatory transfer scheme so that available resources are well matched to
need and young refugees have the best possible start in the UK.
• Engage with local councils, and local community and voluntary sector partners on available
resources, capacity, need and full cost recovery.

Without a clear plan to adequately resource and equip local councils and communities, it is likely
this country will fall short of the commitments recently made by government and ministers to help
those displaced, fleeing conflict and persecution. Councils cannot legally accept or support more
refugees or offer more assistance than the government will allow.

We urge you to ensure safe passage and a compassionate, well-resourced response to refugees
regardless of where they come from. The best time to act has already passed us by – the secondbest time to act is now.


Yours sincerely,


Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty
Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council

Richard Williams
Chair, Sanctuary on Sea

Original letter dated March 17, 2022 available at this link.

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