Our MP voted against helping child refugees – and I’m angry

Our MP’s work on behalf of their constituents – or at least they are supposed to. That’s supposed to be an important principle of our democracy. But in recent days Cheltenham’s MP, Alex Chalk has voted and supported the government in NOT providing help to unaccompanied refugee children. I’m saddened, disappointed and upset, let me explain why.

Cheltenham has bucket-loads of kindness, empathy and compassion. This I’m sure is replicated across the country, and throughout our history this has been highlighted time and again in how we all have responded to natural disasters or humanitarian crisis.

Whenever and wherever a crisis unfolds around the world Great Britain has responded, equally the people of Cheltenham have responded. Given all the global crisis that have taken place over decades added to the ongoing civil conflicts and wars globally, is it any wonder that there is the largest recorded number of refugees in the world since the second world war. Over 70 million according to a variety of organisations.

Before I’m shouted down by some that advocate “looking after our own” or “charity begins at home” yes it should and yes it does, but we as a county that plays its part in the world we do have a responsibility to help those that are in dire need, and it is the responsibility of our government to show leadership reflecting our compassion and empathy for people.

In recent times I’m proud to have led Cheltenham’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis and is playing its part in supporting asylum seekers as well. Whilst working within the boundaries of the (sadly unambitious) government schemes that have been set up, Liberal Democrats in charge of Cheltenham Borough Council have supported residents and organisations in helping those people coming to our town.

Being small in number (fewer than 50) all of these people have been welcomed, supported and are flourishing whilst settling into their new lives in our town. I’m constantly amazed by how quickly they have adapted and how hard they have worked to become productive residents, giving back to our communities in a variety of ways whilst dealing with the very personal traumatic situation they have been through. To show our refugee families how much we welcome them, and our local charities how much we value them, we adopted a ‘Town of Sanctuary’ status last year.

I have seen first-hand how many Cheltenham and Gloucestershire residents have helped and offered support for refugee’s and asylum seekers. The work of Cheltenham Welcomes Refugees and Gloucestershire Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers is invaluable to our town. That’s why I’m so saddened and disappointed with the recent decision by our government, backed by Cheltenham’s MP, not to continue with the 2016 amendment to the immigration act (the Dubs amendment) a commitment offering safe passage to 3000 unaccompanied children safe passage to our country as part of the EU withdrawal act.

Unaccompanied refugee children need help. They are the most vulnerable people on the planet. Whilst our government says it is still committed to helping, its actions speaks volumes as to its intentions. Which is why I’m not surprised by the level of upset this has caused residents in Cheltenham who like me are somewhat perplexed by the lack of empathy and compassion being shown by our MP and his Conservative colleagues.

Cheltenham’s MP Alex Chalk is a trustee of Gloucestershire Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers. The charity’s trustees have publicly asked him for an explanation for his actions.
Whilst I’m sure there will be a plausible political explanation couched in jargon and legalese, this issue does shine a light on how our town’s compassion and empathy may or not be reflected when our towns MP casts his vote. Is it for his party, himself or his residents?

On this issue, Alex Chalk has not only let us down as his constituents but he has let himself down, his vote is not that of a compassionate human being. More importantly, he has let down some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. I urge him to reflect and reconsider whether the values he demonstrates in parliament reflect those of the residents he represents.

* Cllr Peter Jeffries is the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member for Housing on Cheltenham Borough Council

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22 Comments

  • David Becket 13th Jan '20 - 1:13pm

    Unfortunately over 28,000 of compassionate Cheltenham voters supported Chalk.
    They might have thought they were getting a compassionate conservative, but under Johnson and Patel there is no such animal.
    More importantly the party needs to understand why we did not win Cheltenham, I hope that the contribution you and your colleagues will input to our review body will explain this.

  • I figure those 28 thou voted Tory cos did not want Corbyn and to get Brexit over with.The refugees may not have been considered. Door knocking might find the answer for we must now win over voters for the next election

  • Sopwith Morley 13th Jan '20 - 5:55pm

    “Our MP voted against helping child refugees – and I’m angry”

    What are you angry for?

    You are Cheltenham councillor, you now run the council, whilst your party has been central to local government in Cheltenham for years. Perhaps you can then explain from your elevated position on your self appointed moral high ground why in 2016 Cheltenham took in 0 that is zero asylum seekers, whilst poorer towns like Middlesbrough were swamped with nearly 1000, with similar numbers being dumped across other northern working class towns, whilst similar zeros were prevalent across middle class LibDem run councils, and the latest figures are little better. You have 50 in total, and that is after how many years. MIddlesbrough get 50 dumped on them in one bus load.

    https://fullfact.org/immigration/where-uk-refugees-councils/

    You have nothing to be angry about because as a council, you have failed miserably to do even a tiny percentage of what poorer communities are doing up and down the country. You are simply (complaining – expletive deleted – Editor) against your MP for political effect whilst allowing others with less resources to do the dirty work for your conscience.

    As a matter of interest do you or have you taken in a asylum seeker or refugee into your own home. I have asked this question on here before of middle class LibDems, and the silence has been deafening.

  • He will do as he is told in my opinion. Tis the Tory way. I’d sugguest anyone who thinks different should read the story of the scorpion and the frog
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scorpion_and_the_Frog

    As the scorpion said “Tis in their nature”

  • The Conservatives won the election, partly by restricting access to welfare for the first five years of residence, and generally being tough on immigration (extreme right wing in this case) whilst Labour and LibDems are keen on opening up the borders yet further. It’s called democracy, the vast majority of people do not want more immigration and the Left will not get elected on that manifesto. Unfortunately, whilst there is some compassion for lone children when those children turn out to be young men who look nearer to twenty than twelve the public just gives up on it. Will get much tougher once out of the EU, I’d guess.

  • John Marriott 14th Jan '20 - 9:05am

    So you are ‘angry’, Mr Jeffries. As ‘Sopwith Morley’ quite rightly says, you are actually in a position to do something about it. Or don’t you like being in charge (albeit of not a lot) and having to make difficult decisions? You can blame your MP if it makes you feel better; but, as the old song goes; “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself”. Or, if you require a more religious response, why not look up Matthew 7.5?

    The mention of ‘child’ refugees makes me wonder at which point, especially in the Middle East and Africa, a ‘child’ becomes an adult. Some of the ‘children’ featured in reports look a bit beyond childhood to me. I doubt whether many of them would have made it on to the ‘Kindertransport’ before WW2.

  • suzanne fletcher 14th Jan '20 - 11:24am

    @sopwith morley. there needs to be better understanding of the dispersal process for asylum seekers in the UK. When asylum seekers arrive here ( and note this is asylum seekers, not refugees), they are sent to what is called “Initial accommodation” in different areas of the the country by the Home Office. After about a month they are dispersed to accommodation.
    This is mainly in areas where the accommodation can be sourced that is both available and not expensive, hence many towns in the north. In towns in such as the SE, like Cheltenham, there is not much spare accommodation, and it would cost at least double I should think. the decision is made by the Home Office, not local councils.
    I live in Stockton on Tees, next door to Middlesbrough, and we have the highest number of asylum seekers in England in our town. Most people have no idea how many are here. They don’t cause trouble, have a separate health centre so no impact on such as GP waiting times, and costs are met centrally by the Home Office not the local council.
    Not only to they not cause problems, they actually enrich our area. places that would be empty and derelict are brought back to life. Local shops in the streets are kept going, no out of town shopping centres and online shopping for them. they do a lot of voluntary work ( not allowed by law to work), they are filling our churches, and most important of all I have made very good friends with some lovely people who have fled here from appalling places.
    It is not good that they would be scattered around, a few here and there, as facilities needed, and generally provided by the voluntary sector, would not be able to be provided, you need a certain number to make such as teaching English, Drop Ins, and so on available. Also as some are on something called Section 4 where they have no cash, it is important they do not have to rely on public transport and can walk to where they need to go.
    So it is not up to an individual council to decide to take asylum seekers, and our northern town is not being “dumped on”.

  • suzanne fletcher 14th Jan '20 - 11:30am

    @John Marriott. the point about “child refugees” looking more adult. I don’t think you have any idea of the toll that is taken on a young person making dangerous and extremely difficult journeys across the globe. How many of us that know young people under 18 would think they could travel like that and live without contact with family and friends? how long would those we know, children, grandchildren, friends children, could last long?
    as to how they look. A twin from Syria arrived here via Calais. he was lucky, he got here more or less straight away, got a decision on being able to stay quite quickly, and got a job. His twin did not make it here for several years, and was detained when he got here. He was finally dispersed to Wales. He came up here to visit his brother, and I was so shocked when I saw them side by side. the late arrival here looked at least 10 years older, i will never forget that.

  • suzanne fletcher 14th Jan '20 - 11:36am

    Re the vote on child refugees. I applaud Peter Jeffries on what he says, and well done on Cheltenham becoming a town of sanctuary. The City of Sanctuary movement is an excellent on, and I commend working with them for any place of any size that wishes to work on that.
    On what is happening in Parliament. our parliamentarians are not giving up on this, and I am proud that all eleven were present and voting for the amendment.
    Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary will be doing what they can as part of the campaigns.
    Also it does not stop there, Sally Hamwee has tabled a Bill in the House of Lords on family reunion.
    you can read here all the detail, and whilst you are there sign the petition too.
    http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1766

  • suzanne fletcher 14th Jan '20 - 3:32pm

    @Ian Sanderson – what you said was sound which matters !

  • Innocent Bystander 14th Jan '20 - 5:08pm

    John,
    Just asking, were you “conned” into voting Leave?

  • Innocent Bystander 14th Jan '20 - 10:22pm

    Ian, that’s not quite the same.
    It is a certain poisonous attitude which I am trying to expose because that is the root cause of lost referenda and elections.
    Any number of remainers have told me that ‘people’ have been conned into voting leave by the Russians, Cambridge Analytica, a number on a bus, the Daily Mail, various lies, etc.
    I always reply ” Gosh, so you were tricked into voting leave?”
    “Oh no I wasn’t. Other people were”, they reply.
    Wow, do not they understand that if you tell someone ” You were fooled, but I wasn’t” the recipient can only possibly hear “This person is calling me a fool”.
    If you say that, because you think that, then please don’t express disappointment when they vote in the opposite way to the one you want.
    If you do not respect, and genuinely respect, the considered opinions of your fellow citizens you can not hope to convince them of anything.

  • John Marriott 15th Jan '20 - 7:02am

    @Innocent Bystander
    Good points on not treating people as fools and then hoping to convert them. I wonder whether ‘frankie’ is listening?

  • Peter Martin 15th Jan '20 - 10:59am

    @ Martin,

    This thread is supposed to be about child migrants and refugees. Yes we can all agree that the Tories policy is inhumane and we should do what we can to make it more humane. But somehow you and others have brought Brexit into the argument. We haven’t left the EU yet so I’m not clear just how this is relevant.

    I know you have a mental picture of the EU somehow being a centre left progressive organisation. But is it really? We’ve all criticised Donald Trump for talking about putting up walls and fences on the Mexican border. Usually the EU PTB are good at talking but not actually doing. But when it comes to walls and fences it’s the other way around. They get built without any real public discussion

    These are the walls and fences that are built to keep out all refugees. Child and adult alike.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/eu-border-wall-berlin-migration-human-rights-immigration-borders-a8624706.html

  • John,
    You are assuming I want to convert them, well even if I did most are beyond help. Only harsh reality will change their views and even then for many far to much self worth and delusion is invested in their desire for Brexit or Lexit for them ever to back down. Tis not the died hard Brexi’s and Lexi’s we should try to change, you really can’t change stupid, tis those that tagged along without much thought, those that havn’t nailed their colours to the mast. So going forward when things go wrong you need to tar Brexi’s and Lexi’s with the responsiblity, just as they used the EU as a convient excuse for all ills so must they become the default for all blame. Tis hard on them you say, tis not nice their lives will be hard, true but they made their bed let them lie in it. I’ve warned Peter Sunderland will be devestated and when it happens, well lets see what excuse he can come up with while pretending to be a nice Labour voter. Other Brexi’s and Lexi’s face similar conversations and all face the unfortunate fact ” that poor countries cannot and do not feather bed the economically inactice” how unfortunate they voted to make us poor.

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