Activists debated how to build the fightback against Tory attacks on migrants and refugees and institutional racism at Stand Up To Racism’s (SUTR) international conference on Saturday.
The two-day online conference began with over 1,600 people registered for workshops and plenaries on fighting racism.
Topics of workshops included the hostile environment, racist policing and climate refugees.
In the workshop on uniting against the Nationality and Borders Bill, activists discussed how to ramp up resistance as MPs debate it at committee stage next week.
It would criminalise refugees who come across the English Channel and those who try to help them.
Refugee Kenan, who was held in the now shut Penally camp in west Wales, said, “Legal routes into Britain are like winning a lottery.” “I stayed in a camp near the border of Syria and tried to get on the resettlement scheme,” he explained.
“I stayed for four months but was told I was not applicable.
“People in the same camp had been waiting since 2013—this was at the end of 2016.”
Clare Moseley from the Care4Calais charity slammed the Tories’ lie that refugees who come via “illegal” routes and methods are not in genuine need. “Dictators don’t issue visas,” she said.
Clare also busted the myth that the new bill will stop people-smugglers. “The bill won’t stop people coming,” she explained. “It’ll make crossings more dangerous and mean people are forced to give more money to smugglers.”
Mohammad Asif from the Afghan Human Rights Foundation described how asylum seekers are stuck in “limbo” while they wait for a Home Office decision on their applications.
“Britain and the US ruined the lives of people in Afghanistan,” he said.
“The US claims to have spent $2.3 trillion on installing a corrupt government with warlords and drug lords.
“Now the Home Office is keeping people in Glasgow in hotels for months and every legal route out is shut for Afghans.”
Speakers also pointed the finger at the Labour Party for their lack of resistance to the bill—and for building up the hostile environment in the 2000s.
Around 35 people joined a workshop on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black people, institutional racism and the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.
Sabby Dhalu, co-convenor of SUTR, said, “The British government denies the existence of institutional racism. And “instead of addressing the injustice” it is “systematically covering it up”.
Grenfell justice campaigner Moyra Samuels highlighted the way racism was interwoven into the terrible toll of the 2017 fire. Of the 72 people who had died in the blaze, 32 were from the Middle East and north Africa.
She called for prosecutions and jail time for the companies and individuals responsible.
At the evening plenary, international speakers took to the stage to discuss anti-racism worldwide.
Marwan Muhammad, former Director of Collective Against Islamophobia in France, spoke about the French state’s crackdown on Muslims and called for solidarity. “Despite being voted in instead of the far right, Emmanuel Macron’s government is leading the worst public policy against French Muslims,” he explained.
“It’s targeting any charities criticising Islamophobia, shutting down mosques and Muslim organisations.”
Elise Bryant is from the Coalition of Labor Women president and United Against Hate in the US. “The capitalist, corporate ruling class are using the political construct of race to divide the working class,” she said.
“There are more of us than there are of them—anti racists are the majority.”
Nahella Ashraf from SUTR explained how since the 9/11 attacks “Muslims have been portrayed as the enemy within”.
“The war on terror helped to justify attacks on Muslims and immigrants under the guise of combatting terrorism,” she said.
Nahella also pointed out that racism from the top has violent consequences. “After Boris Johnson’s comments comparing women wearing the burqa to letterboxes and bank robbers, there was a 375 percent rise in hate crime the following week,” she said.
Petros Constantinou from the Greek anti-fascist organisation KEERFA accused Greece and the European Union of “murdering” refugees trying to reach safety. “People are drowning in the sea,” he said. “There have been 3,000 illegal pushbacks this year.
Boats with people from Afghanistan or Syria, pregnant women and children, trying to escape death are met by coastguards.
“They put them in life rafts and push them back without anything.
“This is the reality of EU policies on borders. These dangerous policies are opening the way for fascist attacks around Europe.”
The conference continues on Sunday, with workshops on decolonisation, racism and football, the draconian policing bill and Islamophobia.
Speakers include Labour MP Diane Abbott, journalist Gary Younge and Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham.
Together With Refugees—Wed 20 Oct, Parliament Square, London SW1A 0AA at 4.30pm. More details at bit.ly/SUTRbillprotest
Amnesty UK Europe’s day of action—Sat 23 Oct, assemble Italian Embassy, London W1K 4EH at 12 noon. Details at bit.ly/Amnestyprotest