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No Syrian refuge in Sevenoaks?

November 2, 2016 5:07 PM
By Alan Bullion

With the Calais camps being broken up by the French authorities, Syrian refugees who qualify are now being dispersed to the UK and other EU countries.

Kent County Council's Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, which is running between 2015 and 2020, is based on the needs of individuals, and prioritises those who cannot be supported effectively in Syria, including women and girls at risk, survivors of violence or torture, or those with medical needs and disabilities.

Those accepted onto the scheme are able to bring their immediate family with them.

Details of these individuals are sent to the county council which then passes on the details to districts participating in the scheme.

So far 43 people have been resettled in Kent - which is 10 families - and more will be matched to local areas as pledges are confirmed.

However, Sevenoaks is the only Kent local authority to so far shut its doors. In contrast, neighbouring West Kent councils such as Tonbridge & Malling, Tunbridge Wells, Dartford and Gravesham have shown the welcoming mat.

Conservatives on Sevenoaks District Council have claimed to date that there are not "suitable or appropriate" mental health and housing facilities available anywhere despite being pressed by our Lib Dem councillors."Our District Council leaders seem to be expert in 'why we can't' do anything to help - too rural, too far from hospitals, no psychiatric services and no housing. It makes you wonder how we live!

But every other District in Kent has pledged to provide homes for Syrian refugee families. They have taken responsibility . As one of the most affluent towns in the County, Sevenoaks District Council should be ashamed to offer nothing to Syrian families who have lost everything," said Lib Dem Cllr Elizabeth Purves.

We demand a more charitable response and will be asking further questions of Cabinet members. Kent has a long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers over recent centuries, from Jewish, Huguenot and many other families.

Lib Dem Cllr Merilyn Canet, whose family came as refugees 300 years ago, said:

"My family came as Huguenot refugees, as victims of religious persecution. They brought skills, know how and enterprise which help build Britain - refugees usually do. Pulling up the drawbridge and refusing to help in this generation is wrong. Some of our local politicians may be afraid to do the right thing - but most people know that Sevenoaks is better than this."

In 1914, the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported, in its Friday 16 October edition that:

Since the fall on Antwerp, the Belgian refugee has really begun to make himself felt as part and parcel of London's population; we may fairly add, of Sevenoaks population too.

The paper also recorded the number of wounded Belgian servicemen who had arrived in Sevenoaks and the surrounding district, noting that "some of them are really in an awful state of depression, through the loss of the greater part of their families and homes".

WWI Belgian soldiers were accommodated at the local VAD hospitals, including Cornwall Hall and St John's and the names of many were listed. Tunbridge Wells also accommodated many Belgians, who will be commemorated at this year's Remembrance Sunday services.

So in 2016, why not welcome Syrians from warzones in great distress to Sevenoaks too?

"The Jungle has gone. Or at least that is what they want us to think, the French authorities and police on the scene. Yet the NGOs, volunteers and the social media tells a different story. The fires are still blazing and there are still refugees in Calais who are homeless and arguably far worse off than they were in the jungle. Children are still not safe. Men are not safe. Women are not safe. What are we doing about it? Not nearly enough," said Gravesend Lib Dem student and council candidate Sharan Virk, who volunteered at the Calais camps in July.

As Lib Dems Jill and Cllr. Tony Clayton concluded: "Friends of ours from Aleppo - a mixed Christian and Muslim family - have ended up in Australia after two years in limbo without a home. They have been welcomed - as we would have hoped Sevenoaks would welcome others. So why can't Sevenoaks do that?"


Sharan Virk, Gravesham Lib Dem member and Pelham ward by-election candidate, who visited the Calais camps in the summer.