New Sanctuary Strategy Proposed for Wandsworth

Councillors discuss extending support during Refugee Week

Cllr Sarmila Vartharaj is Wandsworth’s Refugee Champion

June 21, 2023

Wandsworth Council is proposing to strengthen its commitment to support refugees and asylum seekers.

A new Sanctuary Strategy is to be discussed by councillors during Refugee Week which runs from 19 to 25 June. The council says the measures will build on its existing work to welcome, support and celebrate refugees.

It is a year since the council announced it was seeking formal Borough of Sanctuary status and the new strategy comes with a £1.75m Borough of Sanctuary funding pot which comes from central government funds rather than local tax revenue.

The three-year Strategy was created in collaboration with refugees, asylum seekers and local groups.

The measures include more support for asylum seekers to access housing, encouraging local GPs to sign up for the Safe Surgeries initiative, greater support for families with children and unaccompanied children and dedicated employment and skills events.

In addition, the council says it will work more closely with the voluntary sector and provide training for council staff so they can provide better support.

The new strategy builds on existing work, including the Borough of Sanctuary Community Fund which funds community projects.

With support from the council, Wandsworth families have housed more than 750 Ukrainians forced to flee their war-torn homeland – the second highest number among London boroughs. Wandsworth also supports refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.

Working closely with local organisations, the council supports sanctuary seekers to find jobs and skills, including learning English; to apply for school places for their children; and to benefit from schemes such as free school uniforms, free school meals and free holiday activities.

Sanctuary seekers will be eligible for the free gym and swim scheme starting in late July, and have been given free tickets to events such as the Wandsworth Arts Fringe and the Battersea Park fireworks.

Sarmila Vartharaj is Wandsworth’s Refugee Champion. She is attended a reception for Syrian and Afghan families on Monday night hosted by the Mayor of Wandsworth in the Mayor’s Parlour.

Councillor Vartharaj said, “We have a long and proud history of welcoming people in need, from Hugeunots to Ukrainians, but we can and must do more.

“We know that if we work closely with Wandsworth residents and community organisations we can achieve so much together. We are determined to provide a warm welcome and practical support so that everyone seeking refuge in our borough can call it their home.”

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