Skip to main content

Oldham is growing a Borough of Sanctuary

Oldham Borough Council and “Action Together”, a force of voluntary activists in the community held a networking event on May 11th for all those in the borough keen to cooperate in caring for sanctuary seekers & refugees. Over 50 people participated, each representing a host of statutory services, voluntary sector agencies, faith organisations & groups of concerned individuals.

The meeting was held after Oldham Borough Council passed a radical resolution to better support asylum seekers in the borough and across the UK.

Oldham welcome

Keynote speakers at the networking event were Councillor Sue Dearden, a long-term supporter of those caught in the asylum process, Bruce Penhale from the Council, who has special knowledge of sanctuary seekers in Oldham due to his responsibilities for Communities & Stephen Chaderton from Refugee Action.

Marzia Babakarkhail, who was a high court judge before fleeing Afghanistan 6 years ago has already found a welcome in Oldham & shared, inspiringly, her experiences since settling in the town.

City of Sanctuary Trustee, Jeff Morgan explained how the City of Sanctuary movement could facilitate a new group coalescing from the evident energy in the workshop.

An immediate outcome of this event will be a directory of services & resources already existing in the locality for those seeking sanctuary. Another initiative between the council, Get Oldham Working, the Red Cross and Job Centre Plus is to develop some employability services for this client group.

The stated medium-term aim of councillors & grass-roots organisations alike, will be the exploration of becoming a City of Sanctuary.

The resolution passed by the council is very much welcomed and will underpin much good work in the borough and beyond. Here is the full text of the resolution:

Oldham Council notes with concern the continuing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa which are driving the current refugee crisis, particularly people fleeing war and persecution from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iraq. We welcome the Government’s commitment to provide asylum for 4,000 people this year from the Syrian refugee camps but believe that as a country the United Kingdom can do more. Oldham has provided sanctuary and a new start for traumatised refugees in the past and calls on the Government to support Oldham and other councils to do more now.

Oldham’s refugee community includes approximately 160 destitute asylum seekers currently supported by a network of community organisations, friends, family and volunteers. Their position will be made worse by proposed reductions in financial support, particularly for women and children.

The Council welcomes the work done by individuals, community groups and religious groups in supporting asylum seekers and asks the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods to convene a meeting of those supporting refugees and Asylum Seekers in Oldham with the aim of developing an ongoing network and provide support to make the best use of all the work done already in the borough, including supporting humanitarian efforts initiated in this borough to alleviate the suffering and poverty of people living in conflict zones.

The Council supports the efforts by AGMA to get a proper support system in place, including reviewing the role played by SERCO in administering asylum seeker support.

Oldham Council calls on the Government to put in place a properly funded and fair system including: fair allocation of refugees across the UK; long term funding for Councils; quick and accurate decision making about the status of refugees; better effort to support and integrate refugees (e.g. providing English as a Second Language teaching and investment in conversion of qualifications to UK standard); better administration of welfare benefits and investment in public services where needed.

Council also resolves to instruct the Chief Executive to:

  1. Write to the Local Government Association to enlist their support in improving support for Asylum Seekers
  1. Write to the  borough MPs to inform them of the council’s position and request that they use whatever parliamentary means available to raise this matter with government