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Moving Stories: How the region's been responding to the refugee and migrant crisis

Migrants and refugees arriving in Europe Photo:

This summer the refugee and migrant crisis gripped Europe as hundreds of thousands of people left their homes to try to start new lives. It is now December and thousands more are still crossing into the continent every week. A number of countries have put up fences to try to control their borders.

Britain has promised to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, and 1000 of them are expected to have arrived by Christmas. In our region Essex, Cambridge and Bedford councils have said they will provide accommodation, but the vast majority have yet to set out what help - if any - they are prepared or able to give.

In South Cambridgeshire Councillor Mark Howell is responsible for council housing. With 1700 local people already on the waiting list he says South Cambridgeshire should not be offering council houses to people from outside. That includes refugees.

"I don't think that South Cambridgeshire should house any refugees with regard to council housing. I think the people of South Cambridgeshire should come first... We already have a lot of people waiting for council houses and for me to take anyone from outside South Cambridgeshire would be wrong."

– Councillor Mark Howell - South Cambridgeshire District Council
Councillor Mark Howell talking to ITV News Anglia reporter Olivia Kinsley Credit: ITV News Anglia

Local authorities will have to foot the majority of the bill for resettlement. Many councils are already facing cutbacks and social services are under pressure, and there is concern that housing, education and healthcare could be put under more strain.

The Government has spoken openly about cuts to local budgets and resources, including legal aid. In response the University of Bedfordshire is running a project with law students giving free sessions for those who have been granted asylum, helping them fill out paperwork for their families to join them in the UK. It is led by Dr Silvia Borelli, who says that while the project has been successful it must be a shared responsibility.

"We are offering support for free but someone else is paying the bill, in this case it's the University... Civil society in general is doing a lot, but what shouldn't happen I think is that the burden is moved from the Government to civil society. There is a sort of dilemma there because civil society is stepping in in things that the Government should be doing."

– Dr Silvia Borelli - University of Bedfordshire
Dr Silvia Borelli - University of Bedfordshire Credit: ITV News Anglia

Click below to watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Olivia Kinsley.

Some say that in the UK we do have plenty of resources to take in genuine refugees and that in fact the figure of 20,000 Syrians is too small. In Cambridge Camila Iturra - herself a refugee - is leading a campaign to help refugees caught up in the current crisis. She says that dozens of local people have pledged to help by offering English lessons, clothes, friendship, advice and even whole houses to rent.

Camilla Credit: ITV News Anglia

"The military broke into my parents' house late at night and dragged my dad out. My sister remembers a soldier pointing a gun at her. A threat to my parents to do as they were told."

– Camilla

Campaigners like Camila are keen to stress that when refugees come here the vast majority want to work hard and build new lives, which in the long term will help the local economy and wider society.

Her family managed to escape from Chile to Cambridge 42 years ago to build a new life, after her father was imprisoned when the army overthrew the Government.

Click below to watch a full report about Camilla\s story by ITV News Anglia's Tanya Mercer.

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