Anti-racists refused to bow to anti-refugee protesters in Portland, Dorset, on Tuesday as a Tory prison barge arrived.
Two groups of 30 faced one another on a small slipway at the harbour—supporters of Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) Dorset and the No To The Barge group. The anti-racists began chanting, “No hate, no fear—refugees are welcome here,” after a “verbal confrontation” with the anti-refugee protesters.
Lynne, who is an SUTR activist, took on the racist myths from one of the anti-refugee protesters. “We were very close to the opposition and their stuff was about the threat that refugees pose,” she told Socialist Worker.
“They go on about 500 men of fighting age who pose a threat because they’re ‘invaders’. They say refugees are a threat to women in the town. “So I said, ‘Why are you afraid of refugees? to this woman. I asked, ‘Do you feel frightened of people from different countries in the NHS who treat you?’ So they began this verbal altercation and chanted, ‘Stop the barge.’.”
Phil, an SUTR Dorset activist, says it “became quite tense at that point” and “police compelled the two groups to be apart”.
The Bibby Stockholm, which will house 500 refugees, is part of the Tory government’s assault on refugees. The barge in Portland arrived just after the Tories pushed through parliament the Illegal Migration Bill, which stops refugees from claiming asylum if they arrive via the Channel. It is a propaganda tool designed to demonise refugees as dangerous, criminal outsiders.
The Tories’ racism is giving confidence to racists and the far right to organise against refugees. As Phil explained, “A typical slogan from the No To Barge group is, ‘Stop the invasion’—that’s taken straight from Suella Braverman.
“The group is ostensibly organising around community concerns, you’ve got people who are saying to us, ‘We’re not racists, we’re only concerned about services.
“But there is a core of people who have a quite strong racist agenda.There are people who produce stuff about refugees being a danger to our wives and daughters, we’re afraid to go out on streets because they’re rapists.
“Around 3,500 people have signed up to their Facebook group and there are very high levels of racism, of antisemitism and of homophobia.”
He added, We are concerned that when refugees arrive there will be vigilantism. Some will get permission to come off the barge and there will be buses to take them into Weymouth and Portland. We are concerned the refugee haters will look to hassle refugees— or worse—so we’re likely to have to have a network of people to meet refugees.”
While the Tories and racists are on the front foot, it’s possible to mobilise the widespread support for refugees and push back the right.
Lynne they have widespread support “about no truck with anti-refugee arguments”. “We’ve pulled a lot of very good people in Portland to the anti-racist side,” she said. “We’ve had two public meetings, both of about 80 people—largely people from Portland, with a few from nearby Weymouth.
Phil added that campaigns against the far right—and reparations from local Tory MP Richard Drax—has “built up a head of steam in the anti-racist movement” locally. “By and large our mobilisations have been larger,” he said. “And, despite the media running the government line, what we’ve uncovered is that very large numbers of people are hostile to the government agenda and supportive of refugees.”
The Tories are ramping up scapegoating. The Labour Party is trying to outdo the government’s racism. And the far right is seeking to mobilise and put down roots. It’s more important than ever for anti-racists to get onto the streets, confront their arguments and loudly say, “Refugees are welcome here.”
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