‘We must step up’: Camden set to become an official Borough of Sanctuary for refugees

Camden is set to become an official Borough of Sanctuary

Refugees have called for for stability in the UK to help them settle in their new homes and rebuild their lives as they adapt to Camden.

The council has taken the step to formally become a Borough of Sanctuary – part of a national network working to support refugees.

Leader Georgia Gould said: “The stories that I’ve heard from people arriving in Camden – teenagers who have seen their families killed, who have had to travel in unspeakable circumstances to find a place of safety.

“We have an obligation as fellow human beings not to turn away from those images of destruction, nor to other their suffering, but to step up.”

Maggie Filipova-Rivers of City of Sanctuary said refugees need support after experiencing trauma of leaving home, a welcoming embrace from the country they arrive in, and also help in finding their way around bureaucracy.

“It is incredibly difficult to navigate a new system.”

Eilis Tobin from West Hampstead Welcomes community sponsorship group, which “supported our refugee family from the airport”, said finding affordable rented housing was one of the biggest headaches.

“We can’t get estate agents to talk to us,” she said.

This is because of concerns over finance.

However, Tobin added: “As a family they are thriving and growing, and they would definitely say they have found sanctuary in Camden.”

Hosnia Abdullah from Afghanistan, who stayed in a bridging hotel when she first arrived, said it was important refugees are able to keep their networks of support.

She said: “I came here with only one dress. I left everything in Afghanistan.

“We are safe here and the children can go to school.”

Groups working with refugees also called on the Prime Minister to review the three-year limit for Ukrainian refugees staying in the UK.

More than 500 Camden families opened their homes to refugees from Ukraine and charities and schools have helped with trauma support, play support and education.

Twenty Syrian families have also settled in Camden with council support, and the borough is also helping people who fled Afghanistan after the US pulled out of the country.

Camden has long had a tradition of welcoming refugees and provided a sanctuary for Jews who escaped the horrors of Nazi Europe, with many settling around Belsize Park.

Several Camden councillors shared their own experiences as traumatised refugees forced to leave their homes for safety.

Kilburn councillor Eddie Hanson recounted the horrors of war-torn Sierre Leone.

“I was captured as a child. I did not know when they were going to take my parents. My brother was killed in the war.”

He added: “It has been hard.”

Nancy Jirira, who left Zimbabwe for the UK, called on the council to lobby the government so refugees can work.

“There is nothing as demeaning as having the right to work stripped away,” she said.

Cllr Gould said the council is lobbying the government over a lack of suitable housing.

The council has stepped in with deposits and extra funding for host families and for those getting involved as “rematching” hosts.

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