Refugees from the Middle East will be coming to Cheshire West after the council revealed it was ‘actively exploring’ what the authority can do to help ease the humanitarian crisis by providing support and accommodation.
Prime minister David Cameron has said the UK will take in 'thousands' more Syrian refugees fleeing from the war-torn country.
And council leaders across the country are willing to house the extra refugees the UK is planning to accept but have asked the government for more resources.
Labour councillor Bob Rudd, chairman of Cheshire West and Chester Council, joined a solidarity vigil supporting the refugees held at Chester’s Town Hall Square on Saturday where he explained the council’s approach.
He told The Chronicle: “I remember refugees coming to this country in 1956 from Hungary, fleeing the Russian invasion. It was fear of what was happening. I can’t imagine how people, with young children, have walked thousands of miles to get away from what they were afraid of.”
Tackling the argument about why people shouldn’t be putting Britain’s vulnerable first, he continued: “I’ve dealt with homeless people in Chester for years and other towns before I came to Chester. I know it’s a real issue but we’ve got to so something. It’s just fundamentally wrong to sit back and say they are asylum seekers or they are migrants, they’re not, they’re refugees fleeing for their lives and we have got to try and help them in whatever way we can. We cannot house everybody but we’ve got to do something.”
Council leader Samantha Dixon said in a statement: “Cheshire West and Chester Council is in discussions with the government regarding how it can assist in providing humanitarian aid to refugee families.
“With cross-party support, we are actively exploring what level of support and accommodation we may be able to provide within the borough. We expect to be in a position to give further details over the coming days.”
On Saturday, September 5, about 40 people attended a solidarity vigil at Town Hall Square to remember the refugees who have died, including the thousands who have drowned in the Mediterranean. Organisers are hoping even more people will join a demonstration at the same place at noon this coming Saturday (September 12), in tandem with gatherings taking place in London and around the country.
Vigil organiser Amy Bonsall told those gathered: “It’s deeply humbling to see so many of you here. Today is intended to be a quiet, dignified memorial to all the people who have died so far and a welcoming open arms to anyone who would like to come to Chester because I have a spare bed in my room for them and I hope that’s true of everyone here and even if you can only just light a candle or say to somebody ‘No, migrant is the wrong word, refugee is what you mean’. That costs nothing but it’s so important.”
Nick and Cathy Pettingale from Lache Park, Chester, are backing CalAid to support refugees living in make-shift camps at Calais by encouraging people to give financially through the internet but also to donate provisions which they will deliver in a van with many items collected at the vigil.
Nick told the crowd: “Cathy and myself are just collecting donations in our own home and then taking a van down to London, probably early October. The big challenge is going to be the winter when Calais is flooded, when it’s cold, when it’s snowing. What they’ve asked for specifically at the moment is to begin to collect tents, sleeping bags and blankets ready for the winter, to prepare for the cold when it’s going to be even harder than it is now.”
The couple can be contacted through Facebook. During the week, items can also be left at Northgate Church.
Mother-of-three Claudia Maramhao, originally from Brazil but married to British husband Peter Jones, is helping to organise this Saturday’s demonstration with more details available at the ‘Refugees Welcome Here - Chester’ Facebook page. She said: “I see people as human beings, I’m here because of that.”
Rosie Sedgwick, of Mollington, who was brought up a Quaker, would be happy to take in refugees.
She said: “I would be privileged to take a family in. It would be very crowded but I would feel very privileged because the experience I would have would enrich me so much I would feel it an absolute privilege that would give me an insight to lives that I would never gain any other way.”
A mum of two grown up daughters, she burst into tears when asked about the photograph of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi whose death on a beach in Turkey galvanised public opinion and put pressure on European governments to tackle the continent’s refugee crisis. Aylan’s father, Abdullah, survived the capsizing that killed his family.
Rosie said: “I’ve been to Bodrum. I’ve had holidays in Bodrum. I’m absolutely appalled. People argue the point why one picture, when we’ve seen so many others but big numbers often just wash past us. There’s nothing wrong that a certain image will suddenly just grab us. That’s the way we’re hard-wired. I can’t begin to think how that man feels. He’s one of millions.”
Ilmarie Braun, who travelled to the vigil from her Farndon home, worked at the Welsh Refugee Council in Wrexham until it closed due to “funding cuts made centrally”. “So this is amazing. Things seem to be changing,” she said.