A FIERCE debate ensued amongst Newport councillors as a motion to become a City of Sanctuary was supported.
A City of Sanctuary aims to provide support, dignity and welcome to all migrants. The motion was put forward by Labour councillors Emma Stowell-Corten and James Clarke.
Cllr Stowell-Corten, who represents Ringland, said: “This council and the people of Newport have welcomed and accepted refugees and asylum seekers. We have a proud history of integration and inclusion, our city is more interesting, diverse and tolerant as a result of this.”
At a full council meeting on Tuesday, April 25, Conservative councillors criticised the motion as a “petty snipe” at the UK Government.
The motion calls on the council leader to write to the UK Government with their concerns about the Illegal Migration Bill, which would see asylum seekers deported to Rwanda and other countries deemed safe.
It also asks the leader to support partners and stakeholders working towards the City of Sanctuary status.
Many Labour councillors attacked the Conservative UK Government during the debate, with Cllr Laura Lacey describing them as “useless”.
Cllr John Reynolds argued the Illegal Migration bill should be renamed the “illegal, immoral, inhumane bill”.
Leader of the Conservative group, Cllr Matthew Evans, said his inbox is full of complaints from taxpayers about cuts to services and housing waitlists.
Cllr Evans, who represents Allt yr yn, said: “I can’t remember, genuinely, the last time somebody contacted me to say we are not doing enough to help asylum seekers or refugees.”
Newport is an asylum dispersal area, therefore the Home Office moves asylum seekers to the area and into the council’s care.
Council leader Jane Mudd supported the motion and said: “I have been truly humbled by the stories of the people that I have met. People who have had to flee for their lives, leave their homes, their families, their lives behind. These are stories of survival, resilience and of hope.”
Cllr Pat Drewett said his grandfathers were Irish and Norwegian immigrants and said he strongly supported the motion as it would continue Newport’s tradition of supporting immigrants.
Deputy leader Deb Davies also supported it and said: “We are a city founded on migration and this will continue, and those who are most in need and vulnerable will be supported.”
However, Conservative councillor Williams Routley opposed the motion and said: “Newport has a long long history of providing sanctuary, however I can’t stress enough that the needs of our own indigenous population must come first.
“We must prioritise their needs and ensure they’re not left behind.”
The use of the word “indigenous” was criticised by Labour councillors.
Independent councillor for Bettws Kevin Whitehead described the motion as “noble” but said consultation with residents was needed. He said: “As a council we have a duty to everybody.”
Labour councillor Miqdad Al-Nuaimi said he would be supporting the motion, but added: “We have a duty of care to the people of Newport as well as those we’re offering sanctuary to.”
Independent councillor Allan Morris said the elected members for Lliswerry would be abstaining from the vote as the council should be focussing on local issues.
Cllr Morris said: “How often do we spend time in this chamber debating the city centre, the lack of facilities kids have to play in, the state of council premises, [or] how long it takes to answer a phone at the civic centre?
“We are here to represent the people of Lliswerry and put forward things that we can make a different in.
“We don’t see that the council should be wasting its time sending letters to the Prime Minister that will just be flicked away, we’re here to deal with Newport matters and we don’t see this as something in our remit.”
Conservative councillor Ray Mogford said the council should be engaging with the local Members of Parliament instead of writing to the UK Government.
Cllr Mogford, who represents Bishton and Langstone, said: “They are there to do that job and they are paid to do that job. The council who put this forward could have made better time liaising with MPs.”
Newport West is represented by Ruth Jones and Newport East is represented by Jessica Morden, both Labour.