A furious row over the Syrian refugee crisis broke out at a Tower Hamlets Council meeting.
Conservatives clashed with both Labour and independent councillors at the meeting on Wednesday, September 16, over whether the Prime Minister’s plan to take in 20,000 refugees over five years was enough.
One Conservative councillor claimed many of the Syrians currently travelling across Europe were making a “lifestyle choice”.
The controversy started when Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs introduced an emergency motion to discuss the refugee crisis and put a draft motion to members that the council would explore how it could better help refugees fleeing the middle east.
The letter outlined how the council had a “moral duty” to support refugees in the borough and needed financial support from the Government to do so.
Mayor Biggs told the meeting: “As fellow human beings we need to offer support at times of crisis.
“We need to extend our arms of friendship and support to these people. As a wealthy country we need to be strong, otherwise we would be neglecting our historical duty in Tower Hamlets.”
The draft motion claimed 20,000 refugees over five years was not enough and the country should shoulder more responsibility. It was supported by both Labour and the independent group.
But cllr Andrew Wood (Con, Canary Wharf), who had spent part of his childhood living in Syria, responded by saying many of the Syrian refugees were fleeing from neighboring countries such as Turkey.
“Many of these people had already left Syria,” he said. “And they have now decided that it is getting worse and there is no point in waiting it out anymore.
“They have made a lifestyle choice to go somewhere else.”
He went on to support the motion, but argued the wording should be changed, as 20,000 “is the right number”.
Councillor Rabina Khan (Con, Shadwell) hit back, saying the “lifestyle choice they have made was to escape war”.
She said: “Does cllr Wood think 20,000 refugees is enough? How does he feel about the 30,000 arms dealers that are being welcomed?
“Around 2,500 people have drowned in the Mediterranean. They make long and dangerous journeys and they don’t do this because of a lifestyle choice.”
Conservative councillors agreed to support the motion, but asked for the phrase “this is not enough” – referring to the 20,000 refugee intake – to be removed.
Mayor Biggs said: “If the country only took in 4,000 refugees a year, that would mean, with 400 local authorities in the country, that we would only be responsible for 10 families a year.
“If we think that we could give some money to a few camps, that would be fine, but this is a catastrophe. I think your comments are disrespectful to the facts.”
The motion was put to a vote and passed.