Local Councillors Andrew Scopes, Annie Maloney and Gohar Almass (Labour, Beeston & Holbeck) have condemned the actions of SDP Councillors Wayne Dixon and Emma Pogson-Golden (SDP, Middleton Park) after they refused to support a call for Leeds City Council to work towards being officially accredited as a Council of Sanctuary.
Full Council on Wednesday (13 September 2023) heard a deputation from members of Leeds City of Sanctuary praising the work Leeds already does to welcome refugees and those seeking asylum, in a national climate that they see as becoming more and more difficult. They requested that as a further show of support, the Council seeks accreditation, something that neighbouring authorities such as Bradford, Sheffield and Calderdale have already done.
It is usual for deputations, issues brought to Council’s attention by members of the public, to receive unanimous agreement for the issue to be looked into and reported back on. In this case the motion was seconded by the leader of the Conservative group, but Councillors across the political spectrum were astounded when the SDP Councillors refused to support the request that gained support from all other Councillors in the Chamber, instead choosing to abstain on the vote.
Councillor Andrew Scopes said:
“Living in the diverse wards of the Inner South, we’re saddened by the SDP’s actions and hope they will reflect and support those on the margins in our community here in South Leeds and work with the Labour administration to welcome refugees and asylum seekers.”
Councillor Annie Maloney said:
“It’s difficult to put into words how disappointed I am. It is common practice that we listen to and refer all deputations heard in full council to the relevant council department. It’s shocking that colleagues from the Inner South area didn’t find such an important matter deserving of that. So, I’ll say it loud and clear – refugees are welcome here.”
Councillor Gohar Almass said:
“Leeds is a diverse and a Compassionate City, a city of sanctuary and a child friendly city that welcomes all. It was shocking to see how the SDP councillors reacted on the day. To become a refugee or an asylum seeker is not a choice and people face hardships before becoming one. Most refugees include women, children, elderly and disabled people who need help the most. So as a Compassionate City we must help such people who arrive in Britain after hardships in their native lands. Being one of the Armed Forces Champions for the city I have also met some amazing people who were translators, medics etc from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries who have given lots of sacrifices for Britain before arriving here.”
Cllr Wayne Dixon responded:
“We aren’t sure why this is controversial at all.
‘The SDP’s policy on immigration offers a solid commitment to resettlement of 20,000 refugees annually, with a net migration figure of 50,000 annually, so there is no suggestion we don’t want to offer sanctuary to those who need it.
“We thank the refugee charities who came to present their case for our City to offer more refugees sanctuary in Leeds.
“We could never bring ourselves to oppose offering sanctuary to those in need. Equally we cannot encourage more refugees or migrants to be resettled here when we have over 26,000 applications for council housing in Leeds and people already here are waiting years, often sleeping on sofas, in cars or even on the streets during their wait. Our housing system is broken.
“We feel this deputation as well meaning as it was, is simply used by the other parties as a virtue signalling exercise with no thought to the actual practicalities and the impact on local services such as more people will create. We would have been hypocrites to vote for it.”
Cllr Emma Pogson- Golden added:
“We didn’t vote either way because, although we do support the help that is given to people who come into the country that need it, we do feel that we also need to support the people already here too, so for us to support this would make us look hypocritical.”
You can watch the deputation’s speech to Council and the subsequent vote here, click on View the webcast, the item starts at 0:16:45.
Photo: A deputation from Leeds City of Sanctuary addressing Full Council
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