YORK Minster authorities have offered to take in a refugee family as the international humanitarian crisis intensifies.

The Dean of York, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull has also offered to convene a meeting to discuss a broader response, as calls mount for increased British action.

Dean Faull was speaking following the publication of photographs of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach after a boat carrying refugees capsized.

She said York had a long history of offering sanctuary to those in need. Most recently, in 1999, the city gave temporary shelter to 90 Kosovan Albanians rescued from overcrowded refugee camps.

Dean Faull said: "I understand that we (Britain) have been providing money for refugee camps, but it is quite clear that they are not providing an adequate solution at the moment.

""We have huge pressures on our economy. But I think all of us are seeing such desperation that I would urge the government to respond."

York, with its long history of welcoming all sorts and conditions of people, should lead the way by offering to take in some refugees, the Dean said. "York ought to be glad to do that," she said. 

She would herself be willing to help convene a meeting in York to discuss the refugee situation, the Dean said. "And we in the Minster would be prepared to say we can offer accommodation to one family." 

Former council leader Steve Galloway, who publicly called earlier this week for York to take a lead in offering sanctuary to refugees, said he would welcome a united front in York on the issue.

He said the public mood was changing rapidly after the publication of the latest photos.

He said: "I have been approached by a lot of sympathisers." 

People should appreciate York would be talking about taking a relatively small number of refugees, he added. "York's share of the problem would be between 12-20 families, based on per head of population."

York Press:

York's Conservative council leader Chris Steward
The events in Syria are an 'appalling humanitarian tragedy' but the question of how many refugees Britain took in was one that had to be decided by Whitehall, Cllr Steward said.
"If the Dean wants to organise a meeting I'm happy to take part in it. But we can't just say we as a city will take X amount of people. Issues like this have to be looked at nationally."

Julian Sturdy, York Outer Conservative MP
"The current situation in the Mediterranean is completely intolerable. It is a real tragedy that traffickers have been able to exploit these people’s misery for their own financial gain.

"This is a problem which needs to be dealt with at source. For me the answer lies in establishing refugee centres outside of Europe, which would ensure that these refugees would not have to make such perilous journeys.

"There is a very real danger that if we throw open the doors to Europe this issue will only get worse."

Cllr Keith Aspden, Liberal democrat deputy leader of City of York Council
“Refugees and asylum Seekers are some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world; they are fleeing war, famine and prosecution. It is right that we do our part to support them. 

"There is a large amount of fantastic work currently taking place to help and support refugees in York. However York as with the rest of the country needs to do more. We will of course work with partners to look at how we can work to make York a more welcoming and supportive city.” 

York Press:

Clockwise from top left: Chris Steward, Daf Williams, Keith Aspden, Julian Sturdy, Rachael Maskell, Andy D'Agorne

Rachael Maskell, York Central Labour MP
Ms Maskell has written to David Cameron seeking an urgent Parliamentary debate on the crisis.

Britain should lead by example and take its fair share of refugees, she said. Her inbox had been "deluged" in the past few days by messages from York people concerned about the plight of Syrian families, and asking what they could do.

"We can't sit on our hands, people are crying out for their lives.The question I ask myself is what would I do if it were my husband going to be shot or my daughters going to be raped? I would flee for my life and I would want somebody to reach out for me."

Cllr Dafydd Williams, Labour group leader on City of York Council
"Every local authority has some capacity to take some extra people and given the scale of this humanitarian crisis we should be taking some.

"I would be very happy to work across parties with leaders of other groups, and I would be quite happy to be involved with the Dean's efforts if that's the way that things work out. We are a comparatively wealthy city and we can and should house some of these people."

Green group leader Cllr Andy D'Agorne
"We should be doing something. In the second world war we took in refugees from various places when they were suffering persecution and that's certainly the sort of thing that we should be looking to do.

"A place like York does have housing pressures, but there must be areas in the city that we could use for temporary accommodation."


York Press:

YORK is well placed to receive Syrian refugees fleeing war and terror in the Middle East.

In 2012, York declared itself a City of Sanctuary - one of 30 in the UK that offers vulnerable visitors a place of safety and helps integrate them into local communities.

Local co-ordinator the Rev Paul Wordsworth said volunteers and organisations had been working hard to build a network of support to help asylum seekers and refugees, and that the structures were in place for York to accept its share of Syrian families - most likely about 20. 

His organisation is already working with refugees, he said. One recent case involved a doctor fleeing persecution in Syria, who has now resettled in Manchester to begin a new life as an NHS medic.

Mr Wordsworth believes the city council could liaise with the UN, which has a list of the most vulnerable refugees, and say York was willing to take its share from that.

Alternatively, he would like the Government to change its mind and accept Syrians, and fast-track their asylum applications.

"No one place can solve the crisis, but offers of support and shows of compassion can put down a marker," he said.

"York is a small city and a city that has not received great numbers [of refugees]; our systems are not overrun. We can do this. We received Jewish children in the 1930s. Ugandans came her in the 1970s and settled here and run businesses, restaurants and post offices. 

"If every town and city in the country did something it would say we are not a country that turns our back on people in a moment of crisis."

Esme Madill of Refugee Action York said cities and boroughs like Glasgow, Birmingham, Newport and Islington in London had all pledged to take refugee families as a result of the crisis, and York, with its "noble record of helping vulnerable people", should be willing to follow suit. A number of people had already offered accommodation in their own homes, she added - but it was more likely that any refugees taken in would be found accommodation in property owned by private landlords.

Harkirit Boparai of the York Human Rights City Network said every town and city in the UK was capable of taking its share of refugees. The UK was a signatory to the UNHCR's Refugee Convention, and had both a moral and legal obligation, he said - and York, with its aspirations to be both a City of Sanctuary and human rights city, should lead the way. 

York Press:

IN 1999, York offered temporary refuge to 90 exhausted Kosovo Albanians who Britain had rescued from the nightmare of overcrowded refugee camps in Macedonia.

The civil war in Kosovo, Albania and Serbia was at its height. The first group of refugees arrived at a drizzly Leeds Bradford Airport in the early hours of June 19, 1999: among them young children, a pregnant woman, elderly people in need of medical care, and two epileptics.

The first 56 refugees were brought to two reception centres set up in York - Howe Hill in Acomb and The Garth in New Earswick. There, they found special copies of The Evening Press waiting for them, with the front page written entirely in Albanian. MIRE SE VINI, said the banner headline: Welcome! 

York Press:

A Kosovar Albanian family in New Earswick in 1999

The refugees were all later moved to Howe Hill, where they remained until June 2000. 
In March 2000, many of the York Kosovo refugees pleaded with the British Government not to send them back home.

Zeqir Zeqiri, who came to Howe Hill with his wife and four children after being held prisoner by the Serbs, said: "I would very much like to go back, Kosovo is my homeland. But at the moment conditions are not right to return."

But by June 21 that year, The Evening Press had reported that twelve of the refugees had returned to Kosovo, while five had moved to London.

A further 21 applied to remain in the UK, and were officially given homeless status.