Some 130 people attended a Stand Up To Racism meeting in Norwich last Friday where there was standing room only.
Trade unionists, anti-racists, refugee support groups, agencies such as the Red Cross, political parties and religious groups took part.
The local Norfolk County Council has agreed to take in just 50 refugees as part of David Cameron’s grossly inadequate pledge of allowing 20,000 Syrians in over four years.
But so far no refugee has been housed in Norfolk. The meeting is part of a drive to hold the politicians to account.
The next day a similar meeting took place in Lancaster backed by the local trades council. Speakers included MP Cat Smith who slammed the government’s Prevent strategy that forces public sector workers to spy for signs of “radicalisation” and targets Muslims.
“Teachers do not feel they should be the police for the state’s Prevent agenda,” she said.
Hundreds of people went to eight meetings on Thursday of last week. Around 120 people came to the meeting in Haringey, north London.
In Leicester Labour councillor Diane Cank argued against scapegoating. “Refugees flee wars—they don’t come here to take benefits,” she said. Teacher Sara Tomlinson reported back from a recent trade union delegation to the Calais refugee camp. “We must let the refugees in Calais into Britain,” she said.
In Nottingham former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg told an audience of more than 50, “Islamophobia is not born it’s taught, and it’s the government and media doing the teaching.”
A meeting of 120 in Tower Hamlets, east London, united leading figures from both sides of last year’s bitterly contested mayoral election.
Other speakers included Leon Silver from the East London Central Synagogue who said he wouldn’t be here today if his parents hadn’t been allowed into Britain as refugees from the Holocaust.
In Doncaster junior doctor Megan Parsons said the NHS had been founded on the work of migrants. Nazia Fattar talked about the horrors women asylum seekers face in the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, where protesters are set to rally this Saturday.
Other meetings took place that night in Derby, Leeds and Liverpool. Around 80 people joined a Stand Up to Racism rally in Edinburgh last Wednesday.
The audience was very young and included people from the Muslim Women’s Association, Momentum, migrant groups and Greek and Spanish activists.
On the previous night 75 people joined a rally in Cambridge. Dan Ellis from the Cambridge Calais Action Group talked movingly about working with refugees.
NUS Black Students Officer Malia Bouattia said the Prevent agenda is gagging Muslim students. Over 100 people rallied in Manchester and 60 in Lewisham, south east London.
It will take a mass movement to beat the clampdown on Muslims and the lockout of refugees—and across Britain mobilising for the demos is helping to build one.
Trapped by Fortress Europe
Over 14,000 people are trapped at Greece’s northern border with Macedonia and over 30,000 in Greece as a whole due to a vicious blockade to stop refugees.
Macedonia’s government, backed by Austria, has progressively restricted access to more and more select categories.
It reportedly now only allows through Syrians who can prove they are from cities at war.
The capital Damascus, which is held by the brutal Syrian dictatorship, is among those that don’t count.
And the closure is enforced through vicious beatings and teargas by a multinational border police force.
Greece’s left wing Syriza government reached an agreement with right wing opposition parties last week that will return many refugees to prison-like detention centres.
Those refugees who are “genuine” can be housed in “open centres” where they are free to come and go.
Yet there are far from enough places. Most face homelessness.
But ordinary people are organising to help them and bring solidarity.
Around 10,000 people turned up with donations to a collection of supplies for refugees outside the Greek parliament in the capital Athens last weekend, organisers report.
Nato ships are not about safety
Another 25 people drowned crossing the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey last Sunday when the boat carrying them to Europe sank. Three children were believed to be among the dead.
Refugee numbers crossing the Mediterranean in 2016 have dramatically increased.
The Tories have responded by sending in ships to join a Nato taskforce. Defence secretary Michael Fallon said this week that the ship Mounts Bay, its Wildcat attack helicopter and two Border Force patrol vessels will join one vessel already there.
They will intercept refugees’ small dinghies and turn them back. And they will spy on the places they sail from to help Turkish authorities intercept them before they leave.
This is no rescue mission. David Cameron said the aim is to “send out a clear message to migrants contemplating journeys to Europe that they will be turned back”.
As with all the restrictions Cameron and other European leaders have placed on refugees, he claims this will make them safer. Cameron claims that if the EU can “break the business model of the criminal smugglers”, the refugees will stop coming.
But it has nothing to do with refugees’ safety.
Volunteers rescuing refugees from shipwrecks risk prosecution as people traffickers. If refugees’ safety was an issue Greek ferries already in the area could bring them across. Or they could simply be allowed across the land border.
Denying refugees the right to use safe routes is what forces them to risk the crossing in dinghies. This is also precisely what sustains the “business model of the criminal smugglers”.
If Nato succeeds in blocking off the main routes across the Aegean—such as that between Izmir in Turkey and the Greek island Lesvos—it will only drive people onto longer or more isolated and deadlier routes.