OXFORDSHIRE councils have so far proposed to house just 16 refugee families to help with the crisis.

Two months after Prime Minister David Cameron announced the UK would take in 20,000 refugees over the next five years, campaigners have said the number so far for the county is too low.

Oxford City Council is the only authority to have confirmed the number it will help, pledging to initially provide 10 properties for refugees.

West Oxfordshire District Council will today announce its offer of housing six families in stages over the next eight months.

Its members will agree to make the bid to the Home Office and ask for funding to cover the cost of housing the families for at least a year after their arrival.

WODC cabinet member for communities and housing Councillor Robert Courts said: “This is a major international crisis in which we have been asked to play our part and it is morally right that we do so.

“We are taking all possible steps to ensure that any impact on communities and on our housing waiting list will be kept to an absolute minimum, using, where possible, private sector or offers of self-contained accommodation from individuals or, if required, hard-to-let social housing properties.”

While some have applauded the council’s plans, others have said more needs to be done.

Mayor of Witney Jim King said: “The number is too low, but it’s a start. My biggest issue is the cost of rehousing them all here.”

Refugee support group Asylum Welcome, based in Oxford, has been working with the council but director Kate Smart said there was a problem with accepting very low numbers of refugees at a time.

Ms Smart said: “The problem with very low numbers at a time is it increases the likelihood that the new arrivals will feel isolated. If they arrive in larger numbers it is easier to build mutually supportive friendships.”

But she added: “Bringing all six families into the area at the same time would probably be more helpful than two at a time.

“In our view, it’s better to get the ball rolling by accepting a small number quickly and building up from there, than to have a bigger vision but be slow to implement it.”

Andy Bailey from Witney who, with wife Hannah, recently delivered blankets, food and other items to refugees in Calais, said it was wise to start with smaller numbers.

He said: “As we are in West Oxfordshire and not Oxford – there is not an established community for the Middle East here – it’s good to start small so people can become settled.”

When we contacted Witney MP David Cameron’s office yesterday a spokeswoman said: “It is absolutely right that Britain should fulfil its moral responsibility to help the refugees, just as we have done so proudly throughout our history.

“But in doing so, we must use our head and our heart by pursuing a comprehensive approach that tackles the causes of the problem as well as the consequences.”

Mark Lynas, who organised last month’s refugee support rally in Oxford,which attracted hundreds of people, said Mr Cameron and the Conservatives had shown an “absence of leadership” on the crisis.

He said: “It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic, frankly. I appreciate anything which helps refugees but given that there are hundreds of thousands coming to Europe in desperate need I think West Oxfordshire could do better than six. I think there is so much public support for the refugees, central government and local government should do much more.

“This number is so low. If every equivalent area did this then we would only house a few thousand refugees in Europe.”

Oxford Mail:

  • Pledge: Prime Minister David Cameron, pictured meeting Syrian refugee families on the Syrian-Lebanese border last month, has said the UK would take in 20,000 refugees over the next five years. The local authority in his constituency has offered to house six families over the next eight months

MP for Oxford East Andrew Smith said while it was a welcome start more needed to be done both in Oxfordshire and across the country. He said: “The Government still needs to make clear the procedures and support which will be available to councils, and to those local people who have made clear they want to help the refugees.”

Earlier this month the Oxford Mail revealed that religious leaders, councils and MPs had complained there was a lack of information from the Government.

Oxford City Council leader Bob Price said the authority could not move forward with the plan until the Home Office guaranteed extra funding.

Mr Price previously said “there is a mismatch of the Government’s willingness to spend the money and our willingness to accept people”.

Yesterday he said they had met with other council officials and refugee support groups to discuss the proposals.

He said: “In the context of the humanitarian crisis the total of 16 is pretty pitiful but we’re at the end of the queue when it comes to central government.

“The first 16 is a way of testing the systems we have in place and we’ll see how it goes.”

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said they were “playing the waiting game” for more information from the Government.

Cherwell District Council leader Barry Wood said his authority would back a county-wide partnership to support incoming refugees.

He added: “At this stage it is not possible for the council to be specific about the resources that we would be in a position to provide.”

WODC will meet today at 2pm at its Woodgreen council offices in Witney to discuss the issue.