30/10/2015: A letter to Mel Stride, MP, asking him to support our work

Dear Mel Stride
I appreciate you taking the time to write to me in person, and thank you for expressing an interest in our work.
The UK has a long and proud history of showing compassion to those fleeing persecution and war. I myself am one of many who owe their life to this kind of generosity: my father was a child refugee during WWII, and found a safe haven in British-ruled Palestine while his parents, who stayed behind in Europe, perished with the rest of the Jews of their town.
The Ashburton Refugees Welcome Group strongly supports the efforts already being made for refugees by the government. We are proud, and not at all surprised, that our country is doing much already to ease the suffering in the camps, and also that there is a commitment to allow a small number (4,000) each year for five years into the UK.
However, while these and other actions are to be commended, our view is that more should and can be done. In particular, we feel it is wrong of the government to exclude itself from any talks about helping to alleviate the refugee crisis within Europe. The idea that one can discourage people whose country is, literally, on fire, from entering Europe by only taking in refugees from the camps may sound sensible but in practice has no merit. 
As Syria is being destroyed by a brutal war, such a gesture is meaningless. This is especially so because other European countries have not taken the same stance as we have, and also because we have only committed to taking a very small number of refugees from the camps.
So while we applaud everything that is being done for refugees by our country, we believe that, in view of our own country’s wealth, capabilities and standing in the world community, this is not enough.
Therefore, we hope you can support us by calling on the UK government to:
1. Commit to allowing a greater number of refugees into our country than is the case at the moment. In return, we, and many other groups in Devon, are committed to do what is practical and appropriate to welcome refugees into our communities.
2. As soon as is practicable, enter talks with our European partners about the best way to begin to resolve the humanitarian crisis within Europe. We strongly oppose the UK taking advantage of an EU clause which allows us to opt out of such talks. When the government sticks to the letter of the law in this way it fails to represent the strong feelings of real compassion held by many of us for refugees within Europe, and also for the European countries who are accommodating the bulk of the refugees at the moment. We believe that by doing so the government fails to take proper responsibility for the most vulnerable refugees.
I very much hope that we can continue to communicate in order to find a way in which you can support at least some aspects of our work.
We all want to be part of a nation that’s driven by hope and compassion, not fear. And we want to be able to look back on this pivotal time of crisis with pride that we have done everything within our power to help facilitate the protection of the most vulnerable refugees.
Yours with best wishes,
Yaara Lahav Gregory
For the Ashburton Refugees Welcome Group

10/10/2015: MP Mel Stride’s response to my letter congratulating the Government for allowing 1,000 refugees into the country by Christmas

From: “STRIDE, Mel” <mel.stride.mp@parliament.uk>

To: “yaara.lahav@btinternet.com” <yaara.lahav@btinternet.com>

Sent: Monday, 26 October 2015, 9:46

Subject: RE: Refugees Welcome

Dear Yaara

Thank you for your email regarding Syrian refugees.

I appreciate the time and trouble you have taken to make me aware of the Ashburton Refugees Welcome Group and I would be grateful if you could keep me updated on your work going forward.

Britain is a caring nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities. That is why we sent the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean, saving thousands of lives; why we meet our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our economy on aid; why Britain is the second biggest bilateral donor in the world to Syrian refugee camps; and why since the crisis began we have granted asylum to nearly 5,000 Syrians and their dependents through normal procedures.

As you will know, the Vulnerable Persons Relocations scheme (VPRS) is up and running, and has already welcomed 216 Syrians to the UK. This scheme will make a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable Syrians by giving them protection and support in the UK.

But we can do more. I am glad that the Prime Minister has proposed that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. These refugees will come straight from the camps in the Middle East to discourage refugees from taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

To support our local communities the foreign aid budget will be used to finance these refugees for the first year and help local councils with things such as housing. In the longer term, our additional aid spending will be directed to these failed states and to the refugee crisis. The Prime Minister has also appointed a new Minister for Refugees, who will be solely responsible for overseeing the work of welcoming these refugees to the UK.

Simply taking people will not solve this crisis. We need a comprehensive solution that deals with the people most responsible for the terrible scenes we see: President Assad in Syria, the butchers of ISIL and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people. We have to be as tough on them at the same time.

I am glad that the Prime Minister has been clear that the aim is to resettle 1,000 refugees by Christmas. The Government will report back after Christmas to assess how many refugees have come.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. It is much appreciated.

With best wishes


Mel Stride

Member of Parliament for Central Devon

Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury and Government Pairing Whip


From: yaara.lahav@btinternet.com [mailto:yaara.lahav@btinternet.com]

Sent: 21 October 2015 09:05

To: STRIDE, Mel <mel.stride.mp@parliament.uk>

Subject: Refugees Welcome

Dear Mel Stride,

It’s wonderful, and not surprising, to see MPs agreeing to take in more refugees before Christmas. I live in Ashburton and am the coordinator of a new group, Ashburton Refugees Welcome Group. Following our campaign the Ashburton Town Council has declared us a Refugee Welcome Town by unanimously adopting a Letter of Intent drafted by Cllr Sarah Parker-Kahn. Here’s a link to our website, where you can find out about our aims, read the post about the Town Council decision (this is named ‘Ashburton, a Refugee Welcome Town’ and is on the right hand side of each page) and also find the Letter of Intent: https://ashburtonrefuge.wordpress.com/

I hope you will feel able to respond to this email in person and consider supporting our action for the most vulnerable.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Yaara Lahav Gregory

Minutes for meeting of 15th October 2015

Minutes of the meeting of 15th October 2015, Quaker House, Ashburton.

Present: Tanmayo, Tanya, Sarah Hopkins, Hilary Townsend, Lucy Lepchani (Chair), Jane Robertson, Becky Gethin, Audrey Pyder, Judy Gordon-Jones, Isabel Foster, Judy Marshall, Sara Wilson, Anna Dunscombe, Yaara Lahav, Sarah Parker-Khan.

  1. Apologies: Pip Cartmel, Inge Page
  2. Minutes of the last meeting:
    • Lucy read out minutes of the last meeting. It was agreed to carry forward the idea of film making to the next meeting.
    • Sarah PK explained that petitions will now only count as one opinion in the eyes of authorities.
    • Thanks to Quakers for use of the hall
    • Sean Wilson (Grey Matter) has set up the website and Sky Williams is helping Yaara to populate – huge thanks to both.
    • Pip is to contact Christians Together about co-ordinating with AWRG.
  1. Fundraiser for Calais was a great success. £1400 was raised-a huge well done to Massimo & Bianca-Maria for organising. Janey Schmidt and Cat Beech took money and supplies to Calais (report from Cat attached). Email copies of Cat’s report can be obtained upon request. There is also a copy on the Facebook page.
  2. The Town Council statement regarding refugees was read out. Good news that the Town Council have formally adopted the statement and will write to the relevant authorities.
  3. Housing: Sarah Hopkins passed round update from positive housing (www.paih.org) a Glasgow based charity, now operating nationwide. The charity runs a database of people willing to offer accommodation for refugees. SH wanted to emphasise that we shouldn’t marginalise ourselves because we are in a rural location. Many refugees come from rural situations. SH has concerns that if there were bad feelings towards refugees locally, would she be able to protect them? Positive Housing provide safety checks. It was felt that if a refugee was housed some reciprocation  from them would be beneficial (for the host and the self-esteem of the refugee) for example cooking their national food, sharing children’s games etc.  If PH identify a need in the area, there is a conversation with the host about suitability. The placement is usually for a short period, averaging no more than 2 weeks while assessment or appeals process happens. Assessment takes place in cities but placements are happening in rural locations. There is 100% safety rate with PH.

SH has had no one offered for placement yet, but will come back to the group if the need for support arises.

Types of support required would vary depending on the person but could include:

  • Inviting for a meal
  • Lift giving
  • Teaching English
  • Internet Skills
  • Clothing supplies
  • Support for the host-the ability to talk things over
  • Hand holding in day to day activities

Lucy explained the difference between Refugees and Asylum Seekers and the range of needs that would vary. It would be useful for individuals to consider what they could offer to someone in need.

  1. Our Vision: Broke off into groups and brainstormed ideas of what we’d like our vision to be. Ideas were shared with the group. Lucy to tabulate and put on website & Facebook group.

Rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees discussed, Tanmayo to forward details of legalities.

  1. Social Meeting: An idea of having a social gathering to bring and share food with supporters of the group was put forward. Possibility of having a speaker (Lucy to ask Lizie Arnold & Saif Ali). A suitable date and venue will be found and brought back to the group.
  2. Buckland Update: A Parish Councillor called a refugee meeting-14 people attended with 6 apologies. Minutes of the meeting can be circulated by Hilary. The main decision at that meeting was that Buckland would join forces with AWRG.

Yaara gave details of the Facebook page and info on details of the website.

Date of the next meeting is to be confirmed.

Ashburton – A Refugee Welcome Town!

Well, we have great news for our Ashburton Refugees Welcome Group members!

Last night, the Ashburton Town Council adopted a Letter of Intent declaring its support for our Refugees Welcome premise. The Letter can be read in our ‘Letter of Intent’ page and on the Town Council website.

Anyone who knows about Ashburton’s long history, will not be surprised: this town has always responded with compassion and charity to those who are in need, and last night our Town Council has continued this very proud tradition.

We have all been greatly moved by the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Europe and Syria; and as people – Europeans, British, whoever we are – we cannot and will not turn our backs on our fellow humans who are most in need.

I have lived in Ashburton for twenty years and have loved it here from the start. But from today I will feel a little bit taller and prouder when I let people know that this is where I’m from – ASHBURTON – A REFUGEE FRIENDLY TOWN!

The Council’s decision is directly attributable to the actions of our Ashburton Refugees Welcome Group members and supporters. Together, we have raised the profile of the refugee crisis and opened up the debate about where we as a society and a community see ourselves within it.

This has been very much a communal effort. Nonetheless, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the following in particular (and please forgive any omission):

Many thanks to all the town Councillors, and particularly Cllr John Nutley who proposed the motion, and Cllr Sarah Parker-Khan who composed the Letter of Intent (we will share the Letter on this page and on our website later on today. It will also shortly be available on the Town Council website).

Letter of Intent:

“Europe is facing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. We, at Ashburton Town Council, continue to be shocked by this humanitarian crisis unfolding across Europe and the death toll among people fleeing war, persecution, sexual violence and destitution. 
We all want to live in a country we’re proud of. We want to be part of a nation that’s driven by hope and compassion, not fear and hatred. The Town Council recognises that it has limited power and resources, but has resolved to do what it can, to help facilitate the proper protection for the most vulnerable refugees. 
We can –
• sign post local residents, willing to offer accommodation to refugees, to the relevant, recognised charities.
• facilitate a dialogue with the District and County Councils and our MP of our support for assimilating refugees into our communities.
• sign post local people to the relevant petitions that will encourage the government to fulfil its responsibility towards the most vulnerable refugees.
• encourage local people to raise and donate funds to the appropriate agencies working with refugees across Europe
• demonstrate the community’s welcome and acceptance of any new arrivals into our locality and introduce them to local services and opportunities
• guard against separatism and social polarisation.

The action we take today will help to decide the landscape of the future: we have a moral duty to extend the hand of friendship to those most in need.”

The Town Council will be writing to our MP, County and District Council stating our position. There will be a full copy of the minutes available on the Town Council website.

We are so glad to have been working alongside our Sister Group, ASHBURTON SUPPORT FOR REFUGEES, which members Cat Beech and Janey Schmidt are in France delivering goods to refugee camps at this moment.

Thanks also to the nine people who wrote to the Clerk and the 165 who signed our petition, which I presented to the Council at the start of the meeting. And thanks to Inge Page and Sophie Pierce for providing draft letters for members’ convenience.

Thank you to the businesses who have supported us in town – No.14, Church’s, Gifts and Gallery, The Fish Deli and the Post Office.

And thanks to all those who have helped so far by attending meetings, collecting signatures, designing websites and flyers, etc.: Lucy Lepchani, Judy Marshall, Pip Harris, Sarah Hopkins, Rosanna Gregory, Becky Gethin, Daniella Gregory, Sara Wilson and many more.

Beyond Borders @ Dartington – help shape our community’s response to the refugee crisis – Monday 26th October 15.00-18.00

This event, organised by Beyond Borders Totnes, might be a good opportunity for us to forge links with other local groups working towards the same goals as our own. I am hoping to be able to attend. If anyone is interested in joining me that would be great (link below):

Monday 26 October, starting at 15.00 and finishing at 18.00.

And we can now announce the Round Table event I mentioned in my earlier update on this project. We will be focusing on the support that people want to give – as so many of you have offered. It will take place in the Upper Gatehouse in the Courtyard on the Dartington estate and will run on Monday 26 October, starting at 15.00 and finishing at 18.00.

Anyone willing to offer some practical support to refugees and asylum seekers – of whatever kind – is very warmly invited. The event has two purposes:

  1. To enable you all to ‘self-sort’ into groupings around particular offers (eg language, help with bureaucracy, arts activity, painting and decorating, driving, provision of ‘kit’ – clothing, household equipment, money etc) – so that we build a bank of possibilities that can be drawn on as and when needed
  2. To give an update on the government’s ‘Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme’ and how we are working to link into that; and the long-standing asylum seekers dispersal programme that runs in Plymouth and the ways in which we could link in with that.





Here are two very quick and easy things you can do now, before TUESDAY 13TH OCTOBER:

We have only a few days left before the Ashburton Town Council meeting Next Tuesday 13th. The Council will discuss whether or not to adopt a Letter of Intent in support of our premise to take appropriate, practical steps to welcome refugees into our community.

If you live or work in Ashburton or its surrounds, or if you are connected to the town, for example because your children are at school here, please:

1) Sign one of the PETITIONS in town – there are copies in Gifts and Gallery, No.14, Church’s and The Fish Deli.

2) Consider taking a few moments to send a letter, either the suggested one below or your own version, TO THE COUNCIL BEFORE TUESDAY 13TH. We have been advised that this is an effective way of lobbying the Council since all correspondence has to be reported on at the meeting.

Note: If using the suggested letter please make sure you insert/delete names as appropriate:

email address: townclerk@ashburton.org
Postal address: Town Hall, North St, Ashburton, Devon TQ13 7QQ

To Ashburton Town Council Clerk (John Germon)
The refugee crisis in Europe is a human tragedy – families are fleeing war and violence and our government is turning its back. We need to ensure this country does more to help the refugees now. You’re my councillor, and I really hope you’ll do the right thing. Let’s stand up for Britain’s long tradition of helping refugees fleeing war. Let’s show the Prime Minister that we, the people of the UK, are proud to do our part and provide refuge to people in their hour of need. Several hundred people in Ashburton have already expressed their support for this position.
Please do all you can to make sure the UK steps up and offers immediate sanctuary to the refugees arriving in Europe. Offering to take 50 families locally in our District Council area would really help!