Harrogate will do all it can to help refugees, Harrogate Council has said as hundreds of residents have signed a petition to welcome refugees in the town.
The council had been criticised for a decision made in April not to offer assistance in resettling vulnerable Syrian refugees.
Harrogate Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Coun Mike Chambers (Con, Ripon Spa) said: “With the best will in the world we couldn’t take on these incredibly vulnerable victims at that time, we weren’t able to offer the care to suit their very complex needs, it wasn’t simply a case of providing bricks and mortar.”
In recent weeks the UK has reacted in horror at the scale of the migrant crisis and photographs of a drowned three-year-old refugee, Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found washed up on a Greek beach have pushed many to seek to do more to help.
Coun Chambers said: “The situation has moved on immensely, the numbers of people fleeing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq is increasing and clearly we cannot and will not just sit on our hands. We in Harrogate will do all we can to help play our part in resettling refugees.”
An online petition calling on the council to offer a home in Harrogate for 50 refugee families has attracted more than 700 signatures.
Michelle Hayes who started the petition said: “The crisis has been breaking my heart for a while, seeing that picture of Aylan was the turning point for so many people, seeing that little boy and knowing he should be alive, it’s heartbreaking.
“The response has been great so far, we have seen some criticism but it has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Harrogate has got a fantastic community, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but this really shows how great the people of Harrogate are.
“If we can’t help in Harrogate then where can we help? I know it is difficult for the government and for councils but I hope they realise the strength of feeling of Harrogate that we should help.”
Coun Helen Flynn (Lib Dem, Nidd Valley) blasted Coun Chamber’s earlier decision.
She said: “I regard this decision as a total disgrace, and yet again the decision was taken with minimum transparency, and unilaterally without discussion with other elected councillors.”
Her Lib Dem colleagues Coun Matthew Webber and Coun Trevor Chapman (New Park) called on the to review its stance on refugees in July council. Coun Chapman said he was now hopeful that the council will look to take in refugees in need. He said: “I am hoping we can agree to take in refugees in Harrogate. Yes there is a large waiting list for houses in Harrogate but we still need to make sure that there is something we are doing in this terrible situation. If every authority like Harrogate did something it would have a big cumulative effect.”
Councils from across North Yorkshire will meet early next week to discuss how best to respond to the crisis.