Offering sanctuary and safety to those escaping persecution and war is something our borough has stepped up to do on a regular basis. And, following a motion at last night’s (13 June) council meeting, Ealing will work to become a recognised Borough of Sanctuary.
The motion was proposed by Councillor Polly Knewstub, cabinet member for thriving communities, who said: “The diversity of Ealing has always been something that the council and residents have been rightly proud of, and we have a proud history of embracing individuals seeking safety within our borough.
“There are significant problems with the UK asylum system, including a record backlog of cases waiting a decision, a de facto ban on working, and enforced poverty and homelessness, and this has a very direct impact on people here, in Ealing.
“It was moving to hear of the personal experiences of so many colleagues who have made Ealing their home, and we are collectively very pleased that Ealing Council has taken the decision to work towards recognition as a Borough of Sanctuary as soon as possible.”
Government called to act
The motion included a call on the government to:
- withdraw the UK-Rwanda agreement for failed asylum applicants to be sent to Rwanda for processing
- repeal the Nationality and Borders Act, which contains provisions around nationality and asylum
- and work with local authorities and communities to build a refugee protection system that treats all people with dignity and compassion.
The full motion proposed by Councillor Knewstub and seconded by council leader, Peter Mason, can be viewed on the council’s website along with a letter sent to the Home Secretary.
Personal experiences of finding sanctuary
At the council meeting, some councillors shared their personal histories of seeking sanctuary in the UK. Below are just a few of these contributions.
Councillor Shital Manro said: “As many of my colleagues know, my family came as refugees from Uganda in 1972. We arrived in this country on a cold October day in Gatwick airport and my father was only allowed to bring £50 with him. Me, my father, my mother and my five siblings arrived at Gatwick and the reception we got was brilliant, people looked after us and helped us.”
Councillor Rima Baaklini said: “I would like to share with you a story of courage resilience and freedom, a story that is personal to me but echoes the experiences of countless refugees around the world. As a child I didn’t experience the typical joys and comforts that many children take for granted. Instead, I lived in a shelter and witnessed the horrors of many wars that scarred my childhood. Arriving to Ealing in 2001, I was welcomed with open arms and was given a chance to further my education with lots of opportunities I could only dream of as a child. Today, 33 years later my husband and I have a beautiful family and have been living in Ealing for over two decades and I even became the first ever Lebanese female councillor in Ealing.”
Councillor Bassam Mahfouz said: “For me, and for so many people in this room, this motion isn’t just a motion, its personal. I was born in Beirut, a city previously known as a Paris of the Middle East but became a synonym for brutal civil war. Words matter, tolerance matters, seeking understanding matters. My mother came here with no English but became an ESOL teacher to new arrivals and refugees in our borough. Refugees may have come here having lost their homes, their jobs, sometimes even their families, but they still have their experiences and skills, they still have opinions, memories, dreams, loves and they still have their determination to build a good life.”