Lewisham will become an official Borough of Sanctuary, with the goal of creating a welcoming space for refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, it was announced last night.
The sanctuary movement is co-ordinated by City of Sanctuary UK and consists of community groups across the country, many of whom are working with their local authorities, as is the case in Lewisham via the Lewisham Migration Forum.
Councillor Kevin Bonovia, who recommended that Lewisham Council support the Borough of Sanctuary plans, said in a statement: “As we all know Lewisham has a long tradition of welcoming those fleeing violence or persecution and is a borough that celebrates its diversity and is stronger for it. In line with that tradition, we were elected as a Labour Mayor and Council in 2018 with a pledge to make Lewisham a borough of sanctuary for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.”
Principles of the Sanctuary movement include: offering a positive vision of a culture of welcome and hospitality, celebrating and promoting the contribution of people seeking sanctuary, and promoting understanding of asylum and refugee issues – especially by enabling refugee voices to be heard directly.
As part of the move, Lewisham aims to be a leading borough in resettlement. Having already settled 30 migrants before the outbreak of coronavirus, the borough aims to welcome 70 more once resettlement begins early next year.
Bonovia also criticised the government’s attitudes towards refugees, and praising Lewisham’s decision to implement this strategy is “in rejection of the government’s cruel concept of a hostile environment”.
The Sanctuary Strategy is coordinated between Lewisham Council and the Lewisham Migration Forum, of which the Council is a founding member. It was approved during a council cabinet meeting on Wednesday night.
It follows a cross-party letter to the Home Office signed by 16 London local authorities, asking the government to resume the resettlement scheme for refugees to ensure safe passage to the UK. This letter was prompted by the deaths of an Iranian Kurdish family in the English Channel on October 27 this year.
Tower Hamlets received a Sanctuary Award for its work in welcoming refugees this week, while nearby Southwark also became a Borough of Sanctuary earlier this year.