Refugees fleeing the deepening global humanitarian crisis could be given sanctuary in Derbyshire after council leaders extended an offer to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Derbyshire County Council leader Anne Western says the county would again be willing to act as a reception centre for refugees as it did during the Kosovan crisis in 1999.
Mr Cameron announced in Parliament on Monday that the UK will take 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years and council officers are now assessing what accommodation could be readied at short notice.
Coun Western said: “We are still awaiting more detailed information and news about government funding but based on the information we have at the moment the number of refugees coming to Derbyshire over five years is likely to be around two hundred people.
“When we know more we will contact everyone who has kindly offered their help to the refugees. We need to be ready to act fast because more people are dying or risking their lives every day.”
In 1999, Kosovan refugees were housed at Stretton House, a former residential special school near Clay Cross, when they were flown out of the war-torn country.
Earlier, Coun Western spoke of why the council had felt moved to respond in the way that it had.
“I can’t look at pictures of a child washed up on a beach and not be moved by that. Thousands of people are walking down a motorway to get to Austria and others are trapped in railway stations.
“This is an international crisis and we have to do something about it - If we don’t then worse repercussions will affect us all. I think Germany and Austria are doing fantastically well with compassion and we should do the same.”
She added that any local residents, community groups or businesses who would like to offer their help should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, a web-based straw poll conducted by the Derbyshire Times found that more than two thirds of respondents did not want the county to take more refugees.
68 per cent of those who responded did not want any of the refugees to come here, while only 28 per cent did and many of the comments on our Facebook page seemed to support those findings.
Steffan Annetts wrote: “Shut the borders, we have enough problems to deal with like our failing NHS - they should all be sent back.
“I know it sounds harsh but if you give them an inch they will take a mile.”
And Anna Clark wrote: “You are letting the enemy in our country with open arms. Didn’t Isis say it will flood Europe with refugees?
“How many of them are Isis fighters? They are not refugees, they are invaders.”
However, Mark Hewitt spoke for many when he wrote: “They are human beings and we should all be helping each other.
“What would you do in their situation? If my kids were living in those conditions, I’d be doing everything I could to better their lives.
“If people need help, let’s help.”
Despite this debate many ordinary people all over the county have begun fundraising and donation drives of their own.
One is Lauren Brown who has set up a Facebook page, Dronfield Refugee Aid, which already has more than 300 members.
On Monday, she began hosting regular drop-in sessions for people to donate toiletries, clothing and blankets at the Coach and Horses pub on Sheffield Road in Dronfield.
She said: “We had 20 bags of donations at the first session alone.
“So far we’ve had sleeping bags, blow up mattresses, baby and adult toiletries, men’s and women’s clothing and shoes.
“When I saw the photo of three-year-old Aylan (who was found drowned on a Turkish beach) I had to do something, as any mother would.
“I have a five-month-old baby boy myself so I just set up the Facebook group, added everyone I knew and it just grew from there.”
Another is Cathy Taylor, who, together with a few friends in Wirksworth, is collecting essential items which will be taken to Calais by volunteers on Monday.
The group is asking people to donate non-perishable food, outdoor clothing, camping equipment, books and basic hygiene items - especially feminine hygiene products.
She said: “I strongly believe that local people do care about the people in Calais, but I personally found it really difficult to find who to donate money to.
“Local efforts like this are a fantastic way to help people who often arrive with nothing and are hugely at risk, especially with winter just around the corner.
“I initially had quite a few negative reactions from posting on local groups, but they’re far outweighed by the number of people offering to donate.”
For those wanting to donate, the Dronfield group can be contacted on Facebook and the Buxton one on 07975 732294.