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Cllr Alex plea for ‘migrant champion’ for Cambridgeshire

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A plea for Cambridgeshire County Council to appoint a ‘migrant champion’ has been made by Cllr Alex Bulat.

Cllr Bulat, who became the first English county councillor of Romanian background when she was elected last year, is hoping to gain support from fellow councillors.

She has put a motion to the full council on December 13 which asks for better support locally for asylum seekers and migrants.

And she wants officers to look at developing a ‘city of sanctuary’ type charter to be rolled out across Cambridgeshire.

Cllr Bulat says a migrant champion is a “symbolically important role”.

It would be “the public face and embodiment of the county council’s approach to and campaigning on migrant, asylum seeker and refugee issues”.

Her motion calls for the council’s chief executive Stephen Moir to write to Home Secretary Suella Braverman highlighting the challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees in Cambridgeshire.

She wants the county council to call for “safe and legal routes for asylum (rather than the inefficient and expensive Rwanda plan) as well as adequate funding for local authorities to be able to support resettled communities in Cambridgeshire”.

Cllr Bulat says in her motion: “As long as conflict, persecution and economic hardship exists in the world, there will always be people who will seek compassion and a new life in a country other than the one they happened to be born in.

“Migrants have made a huge economic, cultural, and social contribution to the communities they join in the UK.

“Councils across the UK play a key role in supporting asylum seekers, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking Children (UASC), as well as migrant residents more broadly – from providing direct services to signposting to specialist organisations and agencies.”

Whilst accepting “there are significant pressures on local authority budgets”, Cllr Bulat says a Local Government Association task group has highlighted the need for better working with local councils.

And that means, she says, the need to recognise “unequal local-level funding distribution”.

Cllr Bulat says the council should express concern over the “worrying hostility towards migrants and asylum seekers, recently fuelled by the Rwanda plans and the further erosion of migrants’ rights through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022”.

She says recent events have blurred the lines between service provision and immigration enforcement.

“This can lead to asylum seekers, refugees and migrants avoiding accessing the services they are entitled to or asking for support, due to mistrust in or fear of institutions,” she says.

“The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) which some non-UK residents are subject to, makes it difficult or impossible for local authorities to prevent destitution.

“This is particularly concerning in current cost of living crisis.”

Cllr Bulat says: “The Home Office processing of asylum (and immigration applications more broadly) is inefficient and lengthy.

“The longer it takes until, for instance, a refugee is granted the right to work (which they do not have while in the process of claiming asylum), the more pressures local authorities will feel.

“The right to work is essential to independence, integration and community cohesion.”

Cllr Bulat wants the council to commit to the development of a local, county-wide ‘Place of Safety’ pledge.

This would support “the right of all to seek services, advice, support and representation without fear of adverse consequences”.

Cllr Bulat also believes the county council must encourage its partners “not to participate in maintaining a ‘hostile environment’ by providing data to the Home Office that may be used for detention and deportation purposes, except where this is a legal obligation”.

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