Tuesday, 22 June 2021

MP under fire as campaign group backs refugees

CAMPAIGNERS are to approach owners of vacant buildings in Henley to ask if

CAMPAIGNERS are to approach owners of vacant buildings in Henley to ask if they could be used to house people fleeing from Syria.

Henley Syrian Refugee Support was formed at a meeting on Monday night attended by 13 people.

The Imperial Hotel in Station Road, which is owned by Dr Raymond Crockett, from Remenham, was put forward as a possible venue as was the Chilterns End care home, off Greys Road, which is moving to the new Townlands Hospital site. The current site has been earmarked for 27 homes under the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

The group also plans to write to Henley MP John Howell demanding another meeting with him. Members were unhappy with his response when they lobbied him in January over the Government’s pledge that Britain will accept 20,000 refugees from Syria over five years, saying it was not nearly enough.

Former immigration barrister Nicola Scannell, who organised the lobby, said: “We all felt that it wasn’t necessarily something he supported, although he did say he was going to take it back.

“One can’t help but think that politically it’s going off the agenda because we’re so Europe-focused. I think that has quite negative connotations. We have to help more people and that help has to start at a local level. They are going to be in someone’s back yard, someone’s school and someone’s local authority and I like to think some of them could be here.”

Louise Stuart-Bennett, of St Andrew’s Road, Henley, said Mr Howell shouldn’t be let “off the hook”.

Maggie Atkinson, of Queen Street, Henley, said the MP was “dismissive” adding: “There was no compassion, no heart.”

Mrs Scannell’s husband Rick said 20,000 refugees over five years was a “ridiculously low” figure and he wanted Henley to be considered an “appropriate place” of safety.

The meeting heard that South Oxfordshire and Vale of White House district councils would take eight families this year.

The group will also approach headteachers in an effort to find out how many school places are available for refugees.

Mrs Scannell, 43, from Northend, said: “We want to be able to respond to a suggestion that this is ‘pie in the sky’ because there are no school places. It’s not just accommodation they’re looking for, there’s a lot of support they need, from the most basic things from helping to do some shopping in the beginning and getting some money together to enabling them to have uniforms so their children can go to school.

“A lot of them will be fairly well educated — English is quite widely spoken.

“In one sense the more concrete our ideas are, the harder it is for them to say ‘it can’t be done’. I think there has been quite an invidious campaign so people feel distant and don’t feel like we should have a humanitarian response.”

Mr Howell said: “I have given them a straight answer that encapsulates the Government’s position. I agreed to take their concerns back.

“I still think the Government is right to take 20,000 from the camps next to Syria and if they want to go and visit a camp in Jordan I’m sure that can be arranged.

“Their view is certainly not the only view in Henley. After this group had left my surgery, I had others attend who wanted no more refugees and wanted strict controls on immigration. What am I supposed to do?”

More News:

POLL: Have your say