This article has been written by Natasha Valladeres, Refugee Resettlement Manager for Lewisham Borough Council. It is part of our serioes on Working with Local Authorities.
Working with the local community, and as a proud founding member of the local sanctuary group, Lewisham Council have an aspiration to be the first Borough of Sanctuary with the principles of sanctuary embedded across the public, private and charity sectors of the local area.
The council are leading by example, with a corporate priority to make Lewisham a more open borough and a place of sanctuary, creating a new role to deliver on this sanctuary commitment. A new dedicated Borough of Sanctuary Programme Manager will be starting in March to continue the work which has already begun and help services across the council to develop action plans for how they will incorporate sanctuary in service development, design and delivery.
A new strategy is also being finalised, which will formalise the council’s approach and make the City of Sanctuary principles part of council officers’ everyday work. It links these principles to the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and the council’s Public Sector Equality Duty, recognising the marginalisation of those seeking sanctuary and setting out an approach which will see this mitigated and reduced.
In addition to ensuring the sanctuary principles are reflected across all service delivery, Lewisham council is also working directly to provide sanctuary for those fleeing persecution and conflict, with a Refugee Resettlement Programme which has seen refugee families welcomed in Lewisham since 2017, and a commitment to welcome a target of a further 100 vulnerable families making Lewisham London’s leading borough for resettlement.
Other work includes committing to support 100 refugee children as part of the campaign by Safe Passage, supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the council’s Children’s Services, and passing a Council Motion to ensure families who have no recourse to public funds but are supported financially under the Children’s Act 1989 are able to secure free school meals; providing support and advice for residents impacted by Windrush and Brexit; and work on tackling hate crime and improving community cohesion.
Cabinet Member for Democracy, Refugees and Accountability, Councillor Kevin Bonavia, adds,
“Our borough has a proud history of supporting refugees and migrants. We are strengthened by our diversity and the values we hold which enable and empower it.
That is why we are committed to making Lewisham a Borough of Sanctuary where we reject the concept of a “hostile environment” and instead offer welcome to those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries and protect the rights of all migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees.
The council is a founding member of the Lewisham Migration Forum which is co-ordinating the collective effort for Lewisham to become a Borough of Sanctuary. Our aim within the forum is to persuade individuals and organisations across our borough to join us in enacting the principles of the Cities of Sanctuary movement.
We are also making changes across all of our organisation so as to create a supportive environment for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who access our services and also to work with partners to identify national policy issues where we can work collectively to encourage and enable change.”