An MP from Wandsworth has called to turn the borough into a welcoming sanctuary for refugees fleeing violence and persecution.
Putney, Roehampton and Southfields MP Fleur Anderson said she aims to make Wandsworth an area of sanctuary for refugees in accordance with the City of Sanctuary UK vision.
The umbrella movement began in October 2005 after Sheffield declared itself the first city of sanctuary, with many places across the UK following suit since.
Anderson said: “To be a refugee can be extremely isolating, frightening and you don’t know where to turn. You can feel that no-one wants you.
“But here in Wandsworth, we want to say it’s the opposite. We throw our arms open to refugees. We know that we can provide a place of sanctuary.”
The Labour MP co-founded Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees around 2015, with the aim of lobbying the local council to resettle at least 10 Syrian refugees.
Under the Government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), which was replaced this year by the new Global Resettlement scheme, 20,080 refugees were settled across UK.
Of these, Wandsworth Council has supported 12 Syrian families, consisting of 51 people.
Although Anderson praised past efforts of Wandsworth community groups to welcome refugee families, she said more needs to be done locally and nationally.
Anderson added: “Other cities around the country have led the way and shown what can be done if you just say to groups, to public institutions like libraries, theatres, schools ‘what could we all do together to say that you are a welcoming group or organisation?’
“As a country we can do so much better than this, and I do think people want to do better. I don’t get a huge amount of pushback on this.
“Sanctuary gives a structure and it describes what it means to be a sanctuary, without it just being fluffy words.
“It’s a way of saying it together, rather than just a few people thinking about it here and there, we can say it as a community together.”
While many places across the UK are officially recognised as sanctuaries, including Lewisham in November 2020, Wandsworth Council is reluctant to do so.
A spokerson for the council said: “Becoming a place of sanctuary has not got any weight. Actions speak louder than words, and our actions speak louder than those pronouncements.
“We have demonstrated in the past that we are ready and willing to play our part in supporting the national efforts to help refugees who are fleeing war torn places and who need support, and help in times of crisis.”
Fleur Anderson said a motion proposing Wandsworth Council become a borough of sanctuary in 2015 was voted down.
But regardless, the MP said she is keen to pursue the idea of turning Wandsworth into a place of sanctuary.
She met with residents at a Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees on 20 April to discuss what becoming a sanctuary could mean for the area.
Anderson said: “It was a really well attended meeting, which shows how much interest there is in Wandsworth. There were local librarians, theatres and people members of different local organisation or just wanting to see what they could offer.
“Wandsworth residents want to welcome refugees. We do see that as something that is important to us as a community. We really value diversity in Wandsworth and we’d like to continue to do this.
“We’d like the support of the council, but whether we get the support of the council or not, we’d like to go ahead with the idea of becoming a borough of sanctuary.”