Russell Hargrave reports on efforts to rehome Syrian refugees in Waltham Forest
A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria. (Credit Mstyslav Chernov)
A local campaign group has criticised Waltham Forest Council’s progress on resettling refugees, one year after the UK government promised to provide sanctuary to thousands of Syrians.
In 2015 the government called on local authorities across the country to accommodate newcomers, and Waltham Forest officials offered to house ten refugee families.
However, Walthamstow Migrants’ Action Group, set up to make migrants feel welcome in the area, described this offer as “a pittance” and told the Echo it believed local people would be supportive of the council if it chose to offer homes to more people caught up in the war zone.
No Syrian families have yet been settled in the borough as part of the government’s five-year programme, which aims to move 20,000 refugees to the UK by 2020.
Addressing the issue in a statement this week, council leader Chris Robbins explained that plans had stalled because central government had made no allowance for higher costs in London, especially for housing. Councillor Robbins argued that this left Waltham Forest with “a funding gap of around £10,000 per refugee per year”.
Even if each Syrian family consisted of just three individuals, this would mean that the council is requesting an additional £1.5million across the five years.
Councillor Robbins committed to working with other London boroughs and the Mayor of London to find a solution, but also stressed that the Home Office would need to provide clarity on “whether councils in London are going to get the support they need to take in Syrian refugees”.
Despite these extra costs, councils elsewhere in London – including Camden, Islington, Barnet and Kingston – have already welcomed Syrians, according to data released this summer.
Dr Shaukat Khan, who chairs Walthamstow Migrants’ Action Group, called on officials in Waltham Forest to be “much more proactive”. Dr Khan told the Echo:
“The number of people the council is offering to help, ten families, is a pittance really. But it is better than nothing and hopefully, if the council takes the lead, people will become even more involved in giving out food and giving people somewhere to stay.”
He added that his group “wants refugees to come in [to Waltham Forest] and feel comfortable”. They already help refugees and migrants currently living in the borough with food, shelter and social support.
Councillor Robbins concluded: “Twenty-eight of London’s 33 borough councils have still not been able to take in the refugees they want to rehouse, because they are awaiting final guidance around government funding. I know that this is not acceptable and that’s why I am pushing for a clear steer from the government in the coming weeks.”
The council leader also promised to update local residents once the government provided this information.
An estimate by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research puts the number of people killed in the five-year civil war in the country at 470,000, including at least 11,000 children.
Local authorities that have successfully rehomed Syrian refugees in London include Barnet Council, which confirmed it had housed eight families, a total of 27 people.