Sunderland council breaks pledge to help refugees

Syrians gather at the Bab al-Salam border gate with Turkey, in Syria. (AP Photo/Bunyamin Aygun)

Syrians gather at the Bab al-Salam border gate with Turkey, in Syria. (AP Photo/Bunyamin Aygun)

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Sunderland City Council has broken last year’s pledge to help Syrian refugees, citing the children’s services crisis as the reason.

Last September, we reported how the authority had made contact with officials at the Local Government Association about what help it could offer the war-torn country.

Councillor Graeme Miller.

Councillor Graeme Miller.

Now, it has emerged that the council will not be offering any help, due to pressures of improving Children’s Services.

Last summer’s damning Ofsted report into the service’s safe-guarding failures came before the pledge was made by Coun Graeme Miller, the authority’s portfolio member for health, housing and adult services.

He said at the time “There is no doubt in my mind that we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis.

“My first reaction, as a human being, was for the City Council to offer whatever help it could and this is what we have done.”

The plight of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria is tragic and – with Newcastle and Gateshead offering help – it is sad to see that Sunderland City Council is not willing to make the same contribution

Coun Robert Oliver

Conservative opposition Coun Robert Oliver has criticised the council’s reluctance to offer up any resources to help.

Coun Oliver said: “The plight of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria is tragic and – with Newcastle and Gateshead offering help – it is sad to see that Sunderland City Council is not willing to make the same contribution.

“Their condition is far worse than anything seen in this city and we have a duty to offer assistance to them in the same way as so many other councils across the country are already doing.

“Clearly the failure of the council to properly manage the Children’s Services department is now having awful consequences both in terms of financial demands and ability to fulfil our obligations.”

Robert Oliver. Conservative. St Michael's 2016.

Robert Oliver. Conservative. St Michael's 2016.

Coun Miller said: “The city council is a full member of the Regional Migration Partnership.

“It regularly meets with the Home Office and neighbouring authorities about responses to the Syrian refugee crisis.

“Following the announcement by David Cameron in October 2015 to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees, it was agreed that with the improvements being made to Children’s Services it would not be appropriate to add more pressure to local services.

“This decision was taken in consultation with the Home Office and the Government appointed Children’s Commissioner.

“The Syrian resettlement programme is a five year scheme (and still in year one) and the position is being kept under review.”