Cambridge citizens marching in support of refugees in 2015Varsity

A student led campaign has called on Cambridge City Council to resettle refugees currently stranded in the Greek Aegean Islands. 

The #Cambridgemustact group, led by third-year student Tegan Louis-Puttick, have issued an open letter which has been signed by over 1200 Cambridge students, societies and residents, as well as gaining the support of local NGOs. The Cambridge campaign is part of the European-wide ‘#citiesmustact’ initiative. 

As of the beginning of April, over 40,000 refugees were temporarily housed in the Aegean Islands. The Guardian reports that in the camp of Moria in Lesbos alone, 20,000 people are currently residing in a camp designed for just 3,000 people.

Louis-Puttick explained that, after securing support for the petition from local actors, the campaign is now calling for the support of individual councillors, local businesses and NGOs. She now hopes to “take the petition to council with a significant level of support from a cross-section of Cambridge society.”

However, Councillor Nicky Massey on behalf of Cambridge City Council, has stated that the Covid-19 pandemic has led the Home Office to bar the resettlement of any persons for the time being, a decision “which prevents any opportunity for local authorities in the UK to assist”.

The #Citiesmustact campaign follows a previous #Europemustact campaign which focused on European institutions rather than on individual cities

Many European states, now struggling with managing the Covid-19 pandemic, have been reluctant to help refugees trapped in camps in the Aegean islands. Additionally, the closure of borders as national lockdowns have been imposed has halted the movement of refugees and asylum seekers. 

The German city of Berlin set an urban precedent at the start of April however by pledging to resettle 1500 refugees from the Aegean Islands. Local activists raised money for evacuation flights for those housed on the Islands, although as of April 19th only 50 children had arrived


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In Cambridge, the City Council responded to a Varsity information request in stating that it has resettled 122 refugees and asylum seekers since 2015. This followed protocols outlined in the Home Office's Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.   

Councillor Massey described that “the City Council has provided £50k over two years to provide services for the wider asylum seekers and refugees in the City through commissioned work with the Cambridge Ethnic Community Forum”.

The campaign also comes amid efforts by governmental and council groups to ensure rough sleepers are housed during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week (30/04), Varsity reported that King’s College had opened up one of it’s undergraduate hostels for use by the council to shelter those without a fixed residence. 

In response to whether this use of  student accommodation could set a precedent for further emergency resettlement, Councillor Massey stressed that the use of private accomodation was a “temporary fix" and that "what is needed a more permanent solution, one which I would hope central Government will help to fund.”

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