Epsom and Ewell Borough of Sanctuary

Refugees on the move

Epsom and Ewell is now poised to be a Borough of Sanctuary. Largely due to the extraordinary efforts of Nina Kaye and Jo Sherring of the Epsom and Ewell Refugee Network our Town’s welcome to and support for refugees of all nationalities is recognised by this new status. Tuesday 12th December the Council approved a motion to establish the title of “Borough of Sanctuary.”

Janice Baker leads English classes in central Epsom for refugees of all nationalities.

Proposing the motion Cllr Neil Dallen (RA Town Ward) said: “The Epsom and Ewelll Refugee Network has been now going for over 10 years. 700-plus people have signed up to receive information on a regular basis from the Refugee Network. There are over 200 refugees registered, there’s approximately 40 hours a week given for people whose first language is not English, and there are 85 refugees that take advantage of that. They are part of The Good Company, which is the Food Bank, Epsom Pantry and East Surrey Poverty Truth Commission. These are organizations that are good in their own right. They’re saving the borough money, doing an enormous amount of good work, and providing a humane service to refugees that happen to end up here.”

Cllr Kate Chinn (Labour Court) seconded the motion and said “Everyone deserves a safe place to live where they can thrive, build the life they want, and get the support when they need it. This government is creating a hostile environment for many people living in our communities by pursuing policies that divide and exclude people with migrant and refugee backgrounds.”

“Shouldn’t Epsom be offering a positive vision of a culture of welcome and hospitality to all? Create opportunities for relationships of friendship and solidarity between local people and those seeking sanctuary. Recognize and encourage partnership working and network development across the borough. This government’s policy is to send people who are fleeing persecution and conflict to Rwanda. It says it gave £140 million to Rwanda last year, and on December 7th, the Home Office civil servant said that a further £100 million had been given, with a payment of £50 million anticipated for next year. Today, I hear it’s actually £400 million. Now we hear the Home Office has earmarked at least £700 million to manage the arrival of migrants in small boats.”

“So, they’ve just allocated £700 million to supporting these policies that are hostile, muddled, and expensive, with no benefit for people seeking sanctuary in this country. The Borough can contribute to changing the narrative of this government. The sanctuary movement not only offers a chance for individuals and groups to challenge the way the asylum debate is framed in the UK, but is also concerned with creating a culture in which the virtues of welcome and hospitality are valued and through which asylum seekers and refugees are free to make a full contribution to their cities and to engage with local communities.”

Cllr Clive Woodbridge (RA Ewell Village) said “Last year as mayor, I got some insights into the work of the Epsom and Ewell Refugee Network and our own team, the Community Development Team, in their work with refugees, and I think it was quite inspiring, but also to actually meet some of those refugees and see what we do for them, we the community, and how much it’s appreciated. I think over the last year or so, working together, Epsom and Ewell Council and the Refugee Network have done some exceptional work delivering extremely positive outcomes, helping refugee households settle within our borough.”

The Homes for Ukraine scheme launched in March 2022, and since then, we’ve supported over 160 Ukrainian families. Working together, Epsom Council and the Refugee Network have provided extensive support to those families, some of whom have had very complex needs and have been through some traumatic experiences. There’s no doubt that the consequences of the war in Ukraine triggered a step change in the borough’s requirements to support refugees, which was fairly small-scale when it was limited to Syrian and Afghan families. But collaborative working has been crucial to our ability to scale up our responses and to do some proactive work in sustaining the relationships between hosts and guests, which has had an enormous impact. I think only two or three families are presented as homeless, so that’s a remarkable achievement when you think that Ukrainian families have been living with host families since the onset of the war and it saved us, as well as giving them security, it saved this Council a lot of money.”

Responding to the decision Nina Kaye told the Epsom and Ewell Times: “We support over 200 families with over 400 refugees and EERN provides over 40 hours of English lessons each week.

“We are delighted that Epsom & Ewell Borough Council have overwhelmingly passed a motion pledging to work with us to make Epsom & Ewell a Borough of Sanctuary as part of the City of Sanctuary Local Authority Network (https://la.cityofsanctuary.org/). We work closely with EEBC to support refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution. We are very pleased that the Council want Epsom & Ewell to be recognised as a Borough of Sanctuary.  We feel this reflects the huge support we receive in this area to help those who have been forced to flee their countries and find themselves in our community.”

Related reports:

Hosts of Ukrainian refugees appreciated

Flight of refugees: history repeating?

Breaking the mould for Ukrainian refugees

Local refugee cash appeal

Image: Raimond Spekking