Councillor Kevin Bonavia & Lord Alf Dubs at the Refugees Welcome Rally
Councillor Kevin Bonavia & Lord Alf Dubs at the Refugees Welcome Rally

Lewisham Labour took part in this week’s Refugees Welcome Rally outside Parliament as MPs debate the Conservative Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which will criminalise asylum seekers who attempt to arrive in the UK outside designated “legal routes”.  


Lewisham Labour joined local groups including Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network alongside several thousand campaigners from across the country, many of whom were refugees, calling for the UK to adopt a fairer and compassionate resettlement system for those fleeing conflict. 


With only 3,500 people being taken through UK resettlement programmes in 2020 and airlines being subject to visa carrier restrictions, the Bill will make it almost impossible for those fleeing persecution to legally enter the UK.  Labour-run Lewisham Council’s own resettlement programme is London’s largest, following Lewisham Labour’s manifesto commitment to welcome 100 refugee families, with 10 families who have recently fled Afghanistan due to be resettled in Lewisham with the next month. 


Councillor Kevin Bonavia, Lewisham’s Cabinet Member for Democracy, Refugees & Accountability was at the rally with Labour’s Lord Alf Dubs, leading campaigner on refugee issues and a Kindertransport refugee himself. Cllr Bonavia said: 

“Lewisham Labour rejects the Tory Government’s hostile environment against migrants. Our policy of making Lewisham the country’s first recognised Borough of Sanctuary shows that there is a fair and effective alternative that welcomes and supports those seeking safety and helps them contribute to our diverse community. 


This Bill fails to guarantee a national resettlement scheme with annual targets which will make it harder for Lewisham and other willing councils provide the necessary support. Even more worryingly, there will be many refugees, especially with safe routes from Afghanistan, taking dangerous journeys to seek safety, which this new law would criminalise if they try to come to the UK. This not only breaks this country’s international obligation under the Refugee Convention, but means many Afghan children and other vulnerable persons facing dangers and even death. We are a much better country than this.” 


The rally comes as part of Week of Action for refugees organised by advocacy groups across the UK. This coincides with the climax of Little Amal – the Walk, a major art project in which a giant puppet of a Syrian refugee girl has travelled from the Syrian border across Europe to the UK. Little Amal will be visiting Lewisham this Friday in recognition of Lewisham as a Borough of Sanctuary and a foretaste of Lewisham as London Borough of Culture 2022. 


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