We live in a global city, with evidence of international artefacts and trade pre-dating Roman settlement. Under the Romans, London became an epicentre of commerce – enriched, over the next two millennia, by people travelling here from across the world. However, it is a sad reality that many of those people were compelled to come by difficult circumstances elsewhere. Whether French Huguenots fleeing Catholic persecution, Russian Jews escaping Tsarist pogroms or, more recently, Ugandan Asians seeking sanctuary from the worst excesses of Idi Amin’s regime.
All found a home, here in London. All helped make London what it is today – a great, global metropolis, teeming with talent.
And yet, each fresh wave of refugees was met with fear in some quarters. Fear that they would struggle to assimilate, or place strain on services.
Today, few would counter the considerable net benefit that refugees have had to our commerce and communities. And, more importantly, few would dispute that it was just and right to help those dispossessed.
But what about those dispossessed in our generation? Millions of Syrians have fled their homes since the start of the civil war, and from Somalia to Cambodia, families are being displaced by violence and political strife.
We have a moral responsibility to help those refugees – as David Cameron told the House of Commons last year; citing our humanitarian interventions throughout history. We must use our head and heart in order to combat the causes as well as the consequences – but inaction is simply not an option, and London must do its bit.
That is why the City of London Corporation has given £50,000 to support the Disaster Emergency Committee’s relief effort for Syrian Refugees. The funds are being used to meet essential needs in Syria and on its borders: food, water and sanitation.
The City of London Corporation is also committed to working alongside other London councils to support those who are most vulnerable, by housing unaccompanied child asylum seekers.
This year, to mark its 20th anniversary, the City of London Corporation’s charity, the City Bridge Trust, is making 20 unrestricted £20,000 grants to charities across London. One of those charities is an East London community centre for refugees, who will use the £20,000 to address the current and future needs of those they support.
There will always be a debate about the number of refugees who can be supported practically and appropriately in London and the UK – and this will play its part in an informed immigration policy. We must continue to be seen as ‘open for business’ – welcoming highly-skilled as well as essential from across the world. It is this reputation which maintains London’s competitive advantage as the location of choice for global business.
Meanwhile, we must continue to support those seeking refuge in this City in every judicious way that we can. Time and time again, those who came with nothing have contributed so much. And while, yes, we must apply a considered and comprehensive approach, we must also be mindful that refugees to our safe haven have helped ensure its strength and success for many hundreds of years.
Jeffrey Evans sits in the House of Lords as Lord Mountevans, and is the Lord Mayor of London.