13 October 2015
The Red Cross is calling on councillors in Portsmouth to vote against a plan that would see the city withdraw from a scheme to support people fleeing violence and persecution.
Conservative councillors Luke Stubbs and Steve Wemyss have tabled a motion for Tuesday’s City Council meeting which would see Portsmouth terminate its status as a dispersal area for asylum seekers.
Dispersal areas are towns and cities where people seeking protection through the asylum system are sent to by the Home Office. Asylum seekers are able to live in those areas and access local services and support as they navigate their way through the UK’s turbulent asylum system.
Anna Griffin, senior service manager for refugee support at the Red Cross in Portsmouth, said: “The council has a proud history of welcoming asylum seekers, and it has been heartening to see the recent groundswell of support from many of the city’s residents in relation to the current Syrian crisis, alongside so many other communities across the country.
“It would be a tragedy for Portsmouth to step away from supporting vulnerable people at a time when we need councils across the country to step up.
“If you live in Portsmouth and you want our city to keep showing support for people who have been through situations most of us will never have to experience, write to your local councillor and urge them to vote against this motion.”
The Red Cross recognises many local authorities are under considerable financial and resource pressures but Griffin added:
“We are urging Portsmouth City Council to focus its energy on encouraging other local authorities to join them in supporting families as the UK prepares to welcome Syrians as part of the resettlement programme.”
The motion suggests that Portsmouth’s services will be put under ‘undue strain’ by asylum seekers living in the city. However, accommodation and support costs are met by the Home Office and the number of asylum seekers dispersed to Portsmouth is small.
The entire South East region takes only 1.6 per cent of the total number of asylum seekers - in Quarter 1 this year, 493 of a total of 30,304 asylum seekers nationally. Compared to the national number, Portsmouth takes just 0.45 per cent of asylum seekers.
In their motion, Cllrs Stubbs and Wemyss reference pressure on school places and the associated cost, especially the cost of unaccompanied children who arrive in the UK without anyone.
Griffin says: “To suggest unaccompanied minors are a ‘burden’ is misleading and unfair.
“Unaccompanied children are not part of the dispersal system anyway so this proposal would not alter those numbers whatsoever and those numbers are tiny.”
The Red Cross works closely with other voluntary organisations, statutory agencies and the City Council to help ensure asylum seekers and refugees are well supported both in their asylum journey, and in becoming independent and well-integrated within the local community. Many of them now volunteer and in 2010 the project received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and is currently half way through its second BIG Lottery grant.
The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.
We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.
For more information or interviews call Rebecca McIlhone on 0117 3012624 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or Nichola Jones on NJones@redcross.org.uk or call 0207 877 7618.
To express views on this issue ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, members of the public can email: email@example.com