‘Portsmouth asylum seekers row won’t be resolved by David Cameron’ says MP

The pro-refugee march in Portsmouth on Tuesday
The pro-refugee march in Portsmouth on Tuesday
Wildcats and Argus help stricken yacht in Biscay storm. Picture: Royal Navy

Naval fliers rescue British yachtsman

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CITY MP Penny Mordaunt insists the government is doing everything it can to resolve the row over asylum seekers coming to Portsmouth.

The Portsmouth North MP says the Home Office is contacting councils to see whether they can do more to welcome families – such as those from war-torn Syria – to ease the pressure on the city.

What this shouldn’t be is an excuse to be abusive or take to Portsmouth’s streets, wearing a mask and intimidating people.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt

But Ms Mordaunt praised residents for having a big heart for people in desperate need – and criticised the ‘abusive’ and ‘intimidating’ actions of the masked men who clashed with pro-refugee protestors on the streets this week over the controversial issue.

And she said whatever the outcome, Portsmouth would not see an influx of asylum families and everyone would have to do their bit.

Speaking to The News, the armed forces minister said: ‘There is no question about the city’s support for asylum seekers, and we are proud of that. What the council is saying is it wants other areas to play their part. It is concerned about the ability to meet larger needs. That’s something the Home Office will want to take on board.

‘The council is right to raise concerns about doing things well, and there will be discussions between it as well as the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

‘What this shouldn’t be is an excuse to be abusive or take to Portsmouth’s streets, wearing a mask and intimidating people.’

Ms Mordaunt said it was unclear how long it will take for a decision to be made on Portsmouth, but dismissed calls for the prime minister to intervene.

She said: ‘Because of the crisis, the prime minister has put people in place to manage this process. If we can persuade local authorities who haven’t done this sort of thing (taken asylum seekers) to do more, or start doing it, that will ease the burden on other areas which have always done their duty.’

In a statement on the refugee crisis, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘We cannot take every refugee, but we can take some, and consequentially we should take the most vulnerable. Those we do take must be properly supported and we must ensure that their care does not place a strain on local services. We must help others who remain in the camps and alleviate their suffering. And we must work to resolve this tragic and brutal conflict.

‘This city has a long record of helping asylum seekers and refugees. And we will carry on doing that.’

Minister for Syrian Refugees Richard Harrington said councils would be able to choose on a ‘voluntary basis’ how many refugees to take as the government draws up plans to resettle 20,000 affected families.

PENNY MORDAUNT’S STATEMENT ON SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS IN FULL:

Eighteen million Syrians are affected by the war; 4 million men women and children are displaced. Many have fled into neighbouring countries – some to camps, some into the local population, and others are seeking a life elsewhere.

The UK has done much to try and resolve the cause of their displacement and to alleviate their suffering. We have allocated £1.1bn in aid for use in Syria and the region since 2012 to support those in the camps and those nations on Syria’s border, some £650m of which has been spent. We have been taking the most needy – often orphaned children and those with disabilities or medical needs which cannot be properly catered for in the camps.

Our policy of taking people directly from the camps is a sound one. We want to ensure we are taking genuine refugees, as opposed to economic migrants from another nations, and we do not want to encourage the appalling trade in people trafficking which has resulted in the deaths of thousands. At the same time we have been working diplomatically and militarily to defeat Isil and to end the war in Syria, second only to the US in this respect and second to none in our humanitarian relief.

We cannot take every refugee, but we can take some, and consequentially we should take the most vulnerable. Those we do take must be properly supported and we must ensure that their care does not place a strain on local services. We must help others who remain in the camps and alleviate their suffering. And we must work to resolve this tragic and brutal conflict.

This city has a long record of helping asylum seekers and refugees. And we will carry on doing that. A sizable proposition of our population, in our armed forces and the civilians in defence who support them, also has a proud record in fighting extremism and terrorism. We should be proud of these efforts. This is a city that does, not talks: an internationalist naval city, not a ‘navel-gazing’ city.

Yet it is not incompatible with all of this that our city’s leaders should ask that other areas do their bit, too.

It is not incompatible with this that we should also help, as we do, those UK citizens who are in need.

It is not incompatible with this that individual community groups should want to do more and organise additional fundraising and relief for refugees, whether in Europe or the Levant.

The government’s approach has been carefully thought through so that we only offer what we can deliver, we work in the most strategically sensible way, and deal with the causes of the situation as well as providing immediate relief of suffering. Without a competent and deliverable response our compassion will mean nothing.

There is a conversation going on between the government and local authorities to see where Syrian refugees can be accommodated. The council will make its position clear as part of these discussions. No-one has yet been asked to take Syrian refugees. When, where and in what numbers Syrian refugees will be settled will be decided through conversation with local authorities and careful consideration.

Some people will disagree with our approach, as they are entitled to do, and will want to peacefully protest against it. But this is not an excuse for violent clashes, whipping up ill feeling or spreading bogus information. Portsmouth deserves better than that, and the compassionate and practical people of this city, as we know them to be, will not stand for it.

All those we seek to help, whether UK citizens or refugees, need us all to keep a level head, and those of the extremes of politics to recognise the seriousness of the challenge facing a large part of the globe.