Emergency meeting held in Huntingdon today to discuss Syrian refugee crisis

Dr Chan Abraham

Dr Chan Abraham - Credit: Archant

Representatives from more than 15 local groups and organisations attended an emergency meeting in Huntingdon this afternoon to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis.

Officials from Luminus, Huntingdonshire District Council, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, two doctors from Hinchingbrooke Hospital and leaders from several of the area’s churches all offered their support and will join forces in a concerted campaign should the Government decide to send any refugee families to Huntingdonshire.

The meeting was chaired by the head of Luminus, Dr Chan Abraham, who said he had brought statutory and voluntary bodies together in a response to a “groundswell of concern” from local people.

“We are responded to an urgent crisis and doing what we feel is necessary. Most people recognise that and those who don’t will be poorer for it.”

A few days ago, the leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, Jason Ablewhite told The Hunts Post, he would not be happy to approve plans to offer refugees local authority homes as there are 2,000 people currently on the council’s waiting list.

But representatives around the table agreed that while it was not yet possible to make firm plans, without a clear steer from the Government, it was important to be proactive and to be seen as welcoming.

Cllr Doug Dew said: “We are not in the best place at the moment as we don’t know what to expect from Government. We just don’t know the scale of the problem yet. We may be able to use some of the military housing, but that would only be a temporary solution. This is a very difficult situation, but it’s not impossible.”

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Church leaders around the table agreed to talk to their congregations about donations and also whether collections for blankets and winter clothes would be appropriate. The view was that these could be sent elsewhere if refugees do not settle in Huntingdonshire.

Dr Abraham said he had the support of Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC), who were unable to attend the meeting, and had discussed future needs for families living in the area such as schooling. CCC has also agreed to fast-track its fostering service for anyone who felt able to take children into their homes.

Dr Suzanne Hamilton and Dr Nic Johnson confirmed that walk-in clinics could be set up at Hinchingbrooke Hospital to assess health needs and deal with any immediate health concerns facing refugees.

MP Jonathan Djanogly was unable to attend the meeting, but Dr Abraham said he would be writing to him to garner his support.

It it thought that Government ministers will issue guidelines to local authorities in the next few days with details about numbers of refugees and where they will be placed. A second meeting will be held once the group has that information.