CAMPAIGNS: Kent copes with mystery guests - Crisis Management

A local resident discovered 117 refugees on the road in the village of Cliffe just outside Rochester on 11 August, the day of the eclipse.

A local resident discovered 117 refugees on the road in the village

of Cliffe just outside Rochester on 11 August, the day of the


They would not say where they had come from or how they had got to the

UK. They could have been Macedonian or Albanian, but claimed to be from


The group was taken to the local police station, and Medway Council

shifted into crisis mode, organising emergency accommodation in case it

was needed, and providing supplies at a local day centre. The council

has a legal obligation to provide any refugees with food and shelter, as

well as arranging foster care for any unaccompanied children.

Refugee stories have attracted local and national media interest over

the past year and, despite the eclipse, the council was inundated with

calls from the media within hours of the incident.


To co-ordinate the flow of information internally and externally,

ensuring the smooth running of the crisis operation. To update the media

with the most recent facts to ensure accurate reporting. To communicate

the council’s plans for the refugees.

Strategy and Plan

As soon as the council was aware of the incident, the emergency

communications plan was put into place. The strategy placed an emphasis

on the role of the four-strong council press team in working with the

departments involved in a crisis.

Media officer Fiona McElroy was dispatched early in the morning to

Rainham police station and the Balfour day centre, to deal with the

local and national media. She co-ordinated interviews, briefed council

staff on what to say and on what questions to expect, and ensured the

media had the most accurate and up-to-date information available.

The internal directors of social services and community and environment

were kept informed. The press office issued news releases at regular

intervals from 9.30am, when a full picture of the incident had built up,

until the next morning.

The press team was also responsible for setting up an emergency

phone-line for the immigration service and for co-ordinating its work

with Stuart Donaldson, media officer for Medway police, to ensure a

consistent message.

Measurement and Evaluation

The council evaluated the success of the operation with an internal

debriefing seven days later. All parties involved in the crisis took

part, going through the crisis response step by step and examining its

strengths and weaknesses.

The role of the press team in providing accurate, up-to-the-minute

information was key to its smooth running and success. Updates on the

progress of the processing of the refugees ensured the council took

action where necessary and kept duplication of resources down to a


The three main messages: that the refugee crisis was a short-term

problem; that the council had a legal responsibility and did not turn

its back on the refugees; and that the day centre remained open for

business as usual throughout the day, were achieved by the

communications team.


The discovery of the refugees prompted the council to impliment its

crisis management strategy: the worst case scenario was that they would

have to find accomodation for all 117 people for the foreseeable


In the event, by around 6pm that evening the refugees had all come up

with contact names and addresses of friends or family in the UK and had

been sent on their way by midnight. Their future is now in the hands of

immigration officers.

The press team played a key role in the council’s handling of the

incident, which portrayed Medway in a positive light as an efficient

council at a time when it is bidding for city status.

Client: Medway Council

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Managing discovery of ’Kosovar’ refugees

Timescale: August 1999

Budget: Undisclosed

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