Lewisham Council formally welcomed 13 Syrian refugee families to the borough in a Zoom call on Monday (June 15).  

The original plan was to have a picnic in Beckenham Place Park, but that’s been put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

During the call, the families, who have been resettled over the past year, were able to ask questions about Lewisham and praised the sense of community in the borough.   

“They spoke a lot about the sense of community in Lewisham and how that helps create a really nice environment to live in,” a council spokesperson said.  

Some of the families have been volunteering in the borough to help during lockdown. 

“They said they were really proud to be able to give something back and help the community after they’ve given so much to them,” he added.   

The council has resettled 30 refugee families since 2017, and has a target of 100 as part of its commitment to become a Borough of Sanctuary. 

The families were placed in Lewisham through the Vulnerable Persons’ Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). 

Both schemes were suspended after the Covid-19 outbreak, but the council is now asking that the Home Secretary restart them.   

Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, and cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability, Councillor Kevin Bonavia, jointly signed a letter to Priti Patel, urging her to end the suspension “as soon as possible”.  

 “We are writing to you to urge you to resume the UK Government’s resettlement schemes as soon as possible. 

“The suspension of the schemes means vulnerable children and families remain in treacherous refugee camps across Europe and Middle East which are now more exposed to the dangers of COVID-19.  

“We therefore urge you to resume the schemes as soon as possible – we look forward to hearing from you as to how and when this can be done. 

 “We understand that COVID-19 may pose new challenges, but local authorities have shown time and again during the pandemic that we are able to meet these new challenges when given the right support.  

“All of our resettled families are currently safe and well and many are joining our excellent local volunteer effort,” they said.  

A Home Office spokesperson said it expects to start resettling refugees “as soon as conditions allow”.  

 “The Government is now close to fulfilling its commitment to resettle 20,000 vulnerable refugees through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and the support of local authorities, including Lewisham, has been vital.  

“Our record in supporting refugees is one we are proud of, however, due to the pandemic, we are currently unable to resettle any refugees but we expect arrivals to resume as soon as conditions allow,” she said.