On Monday 12 th September Northampton Town of Sanctuary held a well attended public meeting. Over 80 people pledged their support for refugees coming into the town with just two dissenting voices.
On September 19th, at Full Council, a motion recognising the support for refugees there is in the town, and the concerns of some local people regarding a lack of school places and housing was passed. The motion was backed by the administration and pledged to keep our capacity to welcome refugees under review. A petition with nearly 900 signatures was presented, calling on us to support the Government's Syrian resettlement programme. Another speakers talked about the ongoing work raising collections for refugees in Calais. Yet another speaker talked about the refugees there are in the town, including 126 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children.
This is my speech to council:
Many thanks to the speakers tonight. It’s very important for us as a town to understand the work that local organisations are doing, the support there is for refugees, the support there is for the idea of Northampton being a welcoming place for refugees. This motion is about establishing cross party support for Northampton as a Town of Sanctuary. Labour brought a motion 6 months ago asking the administration to participate in the Syrian resettlement programme and it was defeated. It seems to my group we need a base line from which to grow and develop our welcome. We need all party support. We do not want to make the lives of refugees, the trauma of refugees, the death of refugees, a political football. We need to move forward on this issue together, taking our residents with us. We do have Asylum Seeking Children in the County. Most of them are in Northampton. They do have foster parents, school places, therapeutic support. We need more foster parents to come forward. As they become 18 many of the children, young adults will need housing. We will have a duty of a care to ensure these vulnerable people are safe, are welcome, are integrated, are productive. A lot of that is work people other than the Borough can do. Why is the Borough important? Because this body can and needs to legitimise our approach to these issues. We are seeing a huge spike in hate incidences and crime post Brexit. We do not want to feed in to that by saying refugees are not welcome here. We do need to recognise that though many many people want to be part of the welcome there are some of our citizens who feel uncomfortable. “I want my country back,” is what one man said to me. We recognise the pressure on services. But we know that where there is a will there is way. A packed public meeting last Monday told us that. We need to work with the people who feel uncomfortable to understand their legitimate worries. They need to understand we want to look after them and their families too. It is not one or the other.
Above all we need to get the County onside. We need 9 new Primary schools and 2 new secondaries in Northampton. The refugee children will not put much extra burden on school places and we can plan for them.