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Norfolk to offer home to 50 Syrian refugees after councillors agree to scheme

PUBLISHED: 12:50 25 July 2016 | UPDATED: 13:35 25 July 2016

Syrian refugee sisters play near their family's tent at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Syrian refugee sisters play near their family's tent at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

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Norfolk is to offer a home to 50 Syrian refugees - after county councillors agreed to take part in the government's scheme,

Norfolk’s councils agreed last year to accept refugees as part of the government’s pledge to resettle 20,000 fleeing civil war – to be housed in Norwich and Broadland.

But Westminster is only willing to pay £1m towards resettlement costs – leaving a £400,000 shortfall.

At a meeting of Norfolk County Council’s full council today, councillors decided to continue to offer the county as a home and not to pull out of the government programme.

Without a word of debate, the council voted to continue by 64 votes to six, with one abstention,

Six UKIP councillors voted against and one abstained.

Before the meeting, campaigners gathered outside County Hall calling for Norfolk to take the refugees.

At a meeting of the policy and resources committee earlier this month, councillors decided it should be a matter for the full council, while district councils have been asked to contribute to help cover the shortfall.

Cliff Jordan, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “Norfolk has a long tradition of extending the hand of friendship to those in need and I am sure that will hold true in the case of the Syrian refugees.

“This was an overwhelming vote. A number of voluntary agencies have offered positive support to ensure the arrival of the refugees and their help - along with the excellent groundwork already done by officers and councils in Norfolk - will give the scheme every chance of success.”

Toby Coke, UKIP leader, said of his decision to vote against taking refugees: “It’s not just down to the cost, it’s the extra pressures on housing and school places.

“Norfolk County Council is having immense difficulties in looking after our existing residents in children’s services and adult services.

“A lot of the refugees are going to have mental health problems and we have huge problems on the financial side.

“We feel we have to look after our own first.

“Although it’s only a small number of people, I am quite sure it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Ahead of today’s meeting, Green group leader Richard Bearman, said there had been local support for Norfolk to offer the refugees sanctuary.

He said: “It is very pleasing to hear of the offer from Norfolk citizens of free language classes, and the support from the Arabic speaking community.

“Also the fact the Bishop of Norwich’s fund has received several thousands of pounds in donations already to assist, shows that the citizens of this fine city are much more welcoming to those in need than central government. I therefore feel it is my duty as a councillor to ensure that Norfolk County Council does its bit too.”

Suffolk has agreed to take up to 200 Syrian refugees over the next five years. Suffolk leaders unanimously agreed in October last year to take them.

Cambridge City Council agreed to host 50 Syrian refugees, with the first of them arriving in December last year.

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