At a full council meeting on 22nd July Hastings Borough Council passed a motion unanimously pledging support for refugees. The motion, introduced by Cllr Andy Batsford, cabinet leader on housing, contained no specific programme of assistance, but promised:

• “dignity and respect” for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants: immigration issues should be debated with care for the dignity of those “who have to suffer the consequences of inaccurate and inflammatory language”;

• “protection, not destitution”: the UK, as one of the richest places in the world, should not drive vulnerable people into destitution;

• “welcome and integration”: everyone can make Hastings a place of welcome, support and civic integration.

Cllr Batsford observed in his key address that “Hastings always welcomed people who come here for a better life, whether from Bangladesh or Brighton” and claimed that through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme, the “town has become a shining beacon nationally about how you wrap around that support for people coming here seeking sanctuary”.

Other councillors Sabina Arthur and Ali Roark referred to the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill being debated that week in Parliament and to “the increasingly hostile narrative around people seeking refuge” with clearly negative attribution to local MP Sally Ann Hart. She, according to Cllr Arthur, “likes to claim that people in Hastings oppose people coming here but we know there’s huge support from our residents for refugees”. Cllr Batsford’s motion was an opportunity to remove barriers to people accessing public services regardless of where they are from or their immigration status.

At Westminster the previous day Mrs Hart had claimed that the UK “is a global leader in refugee settlement”, helping those fleeing persecution from across the world, as well as providing around £10 billion a year in overseas aid. “Between 2016 and 2019, as a country we resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any member state of the EU”, she said. But she opposed opening borders to all would-be migrants.

“Refugees and migrants are not the same, even though many people, especially Opposition Members, argue that all migrants should be treated as if they were refugees on the basis that they are all seeking a better, more secure life.” 

Back in Hastings, Conservative councillors supported the pledges without revealing whether or not they agreed with Mrs Hart’s distinction. Rossana Leal, Founder and Director of The Refugee Buddy Project said afterwards: “We are delighted – we look forward to continuing to work with the Council to improve and extend their services.” 

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