Tory Councillors voted last night against taking a small number of refugees in Wycombe.
Not one defied the three line whip imposed by the Leader.
Not one showed any compassion for the Syrian families dying from war, hunger or disease.
Not one thought Wycombe the place to give refuge to vulnerable people seeking refuge.
Not one thought Wycombe residents would rise to the challenge and provide help and support.
The text of Labour Councillor Khalil Ahmed opening speech of the debate is below.
This motion to accept at least 200 refugees in the district is not a party political matter. It is a matter of humanity.
You will notice that many of us in the Chamber - and the 70 or so supporters in the gallery and outside in the lobby – are wearing red. This represents the Syrian blood which is being shed every day. Innocent people like you and me: teachers, doctors, mechanics, mothers. People being barrel bombed by their own government. People being butchered by ISIS. How much more must the Syrian people suffer?
You may think that I am being melodramatic, but I am not exaggerating. A quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria in the last four and a half years – that is the equivalent of a Paris massacre every day.
Those who have fled to improvised refugee camps are dying from hunger and the worst blizzards for decades. And, as if that wasn’t enough, there is now an outbreak of typhoid killing yet more. The neighbouring host countries cannot cope. It is our turn to offer refuge. Not necessarily more money – our government has been generous in this way – but REFUGE. And we need to do this urgently.
Is the best we can do in response to say that we can’t do anything for the foreseeable future because we have to consult more widely and ensure that we have school places and care plans sorted out first? Is this the right level of urgency?
The background paper provided for this meeting states,
“As yet, only limited information has been provided by the Home Office and, therefore, further information will need to be made available to the council and partner agencies to enable a full and considered debate before any decisions are made”.
Since that was written, the Leader of the Council has received a letter from Richard Harrington, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State with responsibility for the resettlement of Syrian refugees. In the letter, not only does the Minister urge our Council to play its part, but it sets out the funding arrangements for all five years of each refugee’s Leave to Remain: full funding for the first year; £5000 per person in the second year to cover things like Social Services provision and language classes; tapering to £1000 in the fifth year.
There will also be a Special Cases Fund.
The time for delaying a “full and considered debate” has passed.
The time for decision is now. Can there really be any doubt as to what we should do?
Please join me tonight, not to score points off each other, not to hide behind a thousand bureaucratic reasons why we should delay or minimise our involvement. Please join me tonight in a collective debate to find a way of doing what we MUST do and how we CAN achieve it.
This is a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep. In times of crisis, in Cumbria just as much as Syria, society has to do what it has to do. The response may not be perfectly planned. It may not follow the rule book of ordinary events. That is what crisis means. In our heart of hearts, each of us knows exactly what should be done.
We must give refuge to innocent people in mortal fear of their lives. People with no time to mourn their dead. People in ultimate need. We cannot leave all the heavy lifting to the overwhelmed people of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. We should not sit on the sidelines letting Germany show us how it is done.
Britain has always been a place of immigration, a place of tolerance, a place of refuge. It is in our national DNA. Time after time, immigrants become an asset
to the host community, at both financial and civic levels. You have only to look round this Chamber to see the number of immigrants or children of immigrants
who are giving their time to serving their community.
What is it to be British? There are those who say that I am not British, that I am Asian, or Pakistani, even though I have lived here since the age of five. Well, I have news for them. I am a BRITISH Asian. And proud of it too. Britishness is not defined by the colour of your skin, or the religion you belong to. Britishness is defined by your values. Compassion. A sense of humour. Doing the right thing. Support for the underdog. This is what is means to be British.
We can all agree in this chamber that ISIS is evil. The trouble is you don't destroy an ideology with bombs - you destroy it with hope. In this chamber, right now, we have the power to give hope. There are 12 million displaced Syrians. Soon there will be more.
We are asking Wycombe to offer refuge to 200 desperate people. 50 families. One family a week for a year. We can provide hope. Hope now, not some time next year or the year after, not after we've dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's. Tonight let us show the world what kind of British values the people of the Wycombe District stand for. This Christmas, let us give the gift of hope.