Waltham to be borough of sanctuary

Waltham Forest is set to become a “borough of sanctuary” for refugees, joining a network of cities nationwide.

On Thursday, councillors at a full council meeting passed a motion making a commitment to protect the rights of people fleeing violence or persecution and challenge “anti-migrant sentiment”.

The move follows council leader Grace Williams’s criticism of the Home Office placing more than 400 asylum seekers in a Walthamstow hotel “with no prior notice” earlier this year.

At the hotel, not named to protect those staying there, “significant” safety concerns have emerged after two separate allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Councillor Williams said she is proud of Britain’s mixed heritage, adding that her great-grandmother migrated from Jamaica, and hit out at the Home Officer’s “hostile environment”.

She said: “All of us have similar stories, we’re the 18th most diverse local authority in England and Wales.

“Over a fifth of the people here have a non-UK identity, who has not experienced the benefit of that?”

The leader added that the council and community already work “incredibly hard” to settle families and unaccompanied children seeking asylum.

The Labour group’s motion called the Home Office’s housing policy a “failure” and urged it to “guarantee the safety of all children under their care”.

Labour rejected a Conservative amendment to the resolution, which would have softened the stance against the “Rwanda deportations”, referring to instead as a “migrant and economic partnership with Rwanda”.

Conservative group leader Emma Best said she was willing to call out “complete failings” at the Home Office.

But, she added: “I would also like the party opposite to start rectifying and admitting the mistakes they made in government, not sitting around and virtue signalling.”

When contacted for comment, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.

“The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 37,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £5.6 million a day.

“The use of hotels is a temporary solution, and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation.”

The spokesperson added that the government department engages with local authorities “as early as possible” when sites are used for asylum accommodation.

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter