The Council debated on Monday a motion in favour of welcoming refugees to our country and our borough.
I’ll admit that I had some concerns with the wording of the motion. However, I voted and spoke in favour of the motion, as I am absolutely unequivocal that we – as a great, open, tolerant, liberal country – should do our part to hold up the torch of liberty when darkness falls across the world.
You can watch the speech here. I didn’t write a speech beforehand, so some of the wording might have been clunky or some points poorly expressed, but below is the speech in full:
I want to thank Cllr Olad for his contributions. I want to start by saying I’ll be voting in favour of this motion, so there will be cross-party support no matter what my colleagues, who I also hope will vote in favour, will do.
I have one small quibble with what was said earlier, which I’ll say before I get onto the main point, which is that under UK law – a law that was passed in 2004 under the last government – the first country you have to go to and claim sanctuary, Lebanon is not counted as a safe country. Neither is any other country in the Middle East. It’s only EU countries (minus for some unknown reason Romania), so as a technical point in law, nobody is saying if you are in Turkey, you are safe. Because everyone knows there is no part of the Middle East that is safe for the millions of people terribly torn from their homes. I just want to point that out and make sure that everyone knows that’s the case.
I support this motion because, honestly, when we say that we are a great country, it’s because we are an open country. I can’t claim to be a refugee, but my mother left the Middle East when she was a child. She is of Syro-Lebanese descent. The Middle East is her family’s home. It is her homeland. And her family cannot live there as a consequence of the strife, war, and struggle that has marred that region for decades, but has come to the fore now.
[The following part was not caught on the microphone, due to a technical fault that plagued the council meeting. However, I made the point that an aid convoy delivering aid to those in need had just a few hours earlier been attacked and destroyed by an air strike in Syria. This demonstrated that, despite the great work of the British government and the British public in providing assistance in the Middle East itself, it could not be guaranteed to get through, especially to the worst off. As such, even if we can provide help there, we also need to provide help here.]
It would be remiss of this Council not to note that this is the last Council meeting before the US presidential election. And one of the candidates is from New York City – in fact, both are, but one in particular that I’m thinking of does not hold the principles that are inscribed on the Statute of Liberty in that great city particularly to his heart. Maybe I gave away who I’m talking about by using that pronoun ‘his’. That Statute of Liberty says, “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
As I said, we are a great country, because we are an open country. We need to be that torch in the night, when that darkness falls across the rest of the world. We need to be there to offer help in the darkest of times. We did that in 1938 – I’m proud to represent the ward where Nicholas Winton lived and he offered help and saved 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia. But the fact is that we are there once again and we can help them once again. So please, everyone, I would urge you to make sure we do our bit to do that.