In June last year, I offered to host a a family of Syrian refugees. Initially I had no response but, after I spoke with Councillors I knew to be sympathetic to the refugees, I did receive emails from the relevent Torfaen Officer. He has been negative throughout and, after I challenged his approach, I now have his final answer:
In a message dated 14/01/2016 10:53:51 GMT Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Having been to your home and had the opportunity for external inspection, its location is too far away from our current arrangements of clustering families in the southern end of the borough, where we have already identified schools and health facilities, and housing, therefore I will not be contracting your home for this scheme.
His initial email, before visiting my house (in Abersychan) also had claimed that we had poor “transport links” (we’re served by the X24, 23 and 30 bus routes) and few “places of worship” (my next door neighbour is Noddfa Church – who’ve done wonders in efforts to support the refugees). So, now that he’s dropped these ridiculous two claims, I’m slightly pleased that my emails have slightly impacted on his thinking.
Our email correspondance (over 3 months) revealed that he was “following Home Office advice” that obliged Torfaen to house the refugees with “private landlords”. I can believe this – it’s wholly consistent with Tory ideology and practice. But, to overcome this difficulty, I could have been classed as a private landlord willing to accept a derisory rent.
Instead, Torfaen is to house all refugees with Melin Homes (technically a private landlord but closely associated with the Council). This may well exacerbate fears that refugees will queue-jump and take up tenancies that otherwise would be offered to local people.
My offer would have cost less public money and avoid any possibility that local people would lose out. It also would guarantee that the near-neighbours of the refugees would be wholly sympathetic to their plight. I can see no good reason why Torfaen should not have welcomed my offer.
I know from talking with like-minded friends, that similar offers from private individuals have been rejected throughout Britain – both the government and other Council officials all preferring bureacratic solutions to people-to-people contact.
Taken to extremes, “clusters” such as proposed in Cwmbran – they used to be known as “ghettoes” – will be a barrier to true integration and add to anti-immigration prejudice. I hope that Torfaen Councillors, if they read this blog, will seek to establish whether this is a thought-out Torfaen Council policy – or something more sinister.