As the refugee crisis worsens a local action group has launched a petition calling on West Berkshire Council to do its part and accept 50 refugees.
West Berkshire Action for Refugees set up the petition after the photograph of three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, lying dead on a Turkish beach was widely shared on social media, sparking international outrage.
The Tory government has been widely criticised for not doing enough to help refugees, who mostly flee from Syria, and now West Berkshire Council, like other councils across the country, are being called on to lend their support.
The petition, which has been signed by 53 people since it was set up yesterday (Thursday) and from midday stood at 90, states: “The refugee crisis is growing.
"No government or organisation has yet come up with a solution to stabilise areas of the world affected by ‘Islamic State’ and other similar terrorist organisations.
“So the people of those countries have to flee. The tide of public opinion in the UK is turning and the British Government have now said they will fulfil their humanitarian obligations and take in more refugees.
“Local councils need to say that they are willing to resettle refugees locally, or the people will be crowded into camps and detention centres, and not be able to resettle or escape abuse and fear.
“We feel that West Berkshire could cope with such a small number as 50 refugees, and that the local population would help with this resettlement, through housing, mentoring and support.”
A spokesman for West Berkshire Council, Martin Dunscombe, said: “No one who has seen the news reports about the refugee crises can fail to be moved by the scale of the issue or the personal stories that are told.
"This is a national, European and world-wide issue and one which is best considered by central government. It’s important that as a council we listen to our local communities and petitions, once complete, can be presented to the council for consideration.
"Information on how groups can go about this can be found on our website." http://info.westberks.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=27947
Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News on the issue Newbury MP Richard Benyon said that a compassionate response could in fact make the problem worse.
He said: “Like everybody in the country I have been moved beyond words from some of the images we have seen in the Mediterranean and I am pleased that Britain is accepting more refugees and fulfilling some of the demands people have that Britain should be doing more.
“Underneath all that I am conscious that we risk making the problem worse by being compassionate and doing all the things the Government is doing.”
He said that thousands of refugees were legitimate asylum seekers for whom Britain was a safe haven but that accepting more refugees would play into the hands of people traffickers.
He said: “The message is going to go to the people living in refugee camps that actively obey the rules and apply for asylum through a UN refugee system that it isn’t the way to go to Europe.
“It is to find an evil people trafficker and risk their lives and their families.”
On seeing the photograph of the three-year old Syrian child Mr Benyon said: “I was moved beyond words and sickened that such a human tragedy had occurred.”
When asked how many more refugees the country could take he said that was “an absurd question” but added: “I hope that all councils will accept their fair share, and there are many areas in the country that have lower demands on public services which could accept more.”
What do you think should be done to ease the crisis? Should West Berkshire Council find homes for refugees? email firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
For more on this story pick up a copy of next week’s Newbury Weekly News.