Anti-racists took to Whitehall in central London on Saturday to pin the blame for refugee deaths on the Tory government.
Some 300 people joined an emergency protest called by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) after 27 people died while trying to cross the Channel on Wednesday.
It was one of several protests called in towns and cities across Britain in anger at the deaths.
After rallying on Whitehall, protesters marched across to the gates of Downing Street with a message for Boris Johnson. “The blood is on his hands,” said SUTR co-convenor Weyman Bennett.
A refugee from Syria gave powerful testimony of his own dangerous Channel crossing. “Crossing from France was not easy, for me or the people with me,” he said. “But it was the only option we had.
“I was terrified that our boat would sink. The waves got bigger and one woman started crying. She asked people to look after her child in case she died.
“It was something I wouldn’t wish even for my enemy.”
But protesters also blamed border laws for forcing refugees to attempt dangerous journeys and into the hands of people smugglers.
One protester, John, told Socialist Worker, “I live in Brussels—I work in a migrant centre there. It’s one of the main nodes for people travelling towards France to try and get a boat across the Channel.
“I want people to understand, even if you get rid of people traffickers, people will still come.”
He added, “They’re real human beings, not a problem to be solved. Our government and European governments should try and accommodate the people coming here.”
Many protesters pointed out that refugees coming to Britain were fleeing war and poverty created by the West.
“Every government is trying to shift responsibility,” one protester, Aamir, told Socialist Worker.
“They should stop bombing other countries and creating refugees. Instead they make it hard for people to come here. They should make it more logistically possible for people to claim asylum.”
And SUTR co-convenor Sabby Dhalu said, “It is the Global North that creates refugees. The main causes of refugees are climate change and war. And it is the Global North that is responsible for those.
“But it is the Global South that shoulders the responsibility for housing most refugees.”
Lara Bishop from the refugee charity Care4Calais linked migrant deaths directly to border laws designed to stop people coming to live in Britain.
She pointed to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people in 2019, who died in the back of a refrigerated lorry during a crossing to Britain. “What happened on Wednesday is not the first tragedy and it won’t be the last,” she said. “People smuggling is the symptom, not the cause.”
Others said the Tories’ coming Nationality and Borders Bill—championed by home secretary Priti Patel—would cause even more deaths.
Abdulrahman Altamimi from the Muslim Association of Britain said, “The government’s coming bill will criminalise people for trying to cross the Channel. Are they criminals for trying to seek a better life?”
And rapper Lowkey said, “Priti Patel knew this would happen—and she’s prepared for more.”
Protesters all demanded that migrants and refugees be allowed to come to Britain safely. “It was complete luck for me to live here in Britain. And it’s complete unluck for others to live in countries where there’s war and hardship,” one protester, Beth, told Socialist Worker.
“There’s no right for me or anyone else to stop people from living here.”
Some 250 people attended a candle-lit vigil in Hastings on Thursday evening. It took place next to the beach that refugees are brought to by the local lifeboat when rescued at sea.
Simon Hester reports, “Activists from Hastings Supports Refugees, Hastings Community of Sanctuary and Hastings Stand Up To Racism were expecting just such a tragedy as the one this week.
“Living by the sea is a daily reminder of the perils facing small boats.”
The vigil heard speeches from a member of the beach response team, which welcomes refugees when they arrive.
Other speakers included Paul Barnett, deputy leader of Hastings council.
Simon says they “expressed grief, sorrow and anger at government policies that caused the deaths”. A Hastings Rally for Refugees is planned for Saturday 11 December.
On the same evening, 80 people came out in Glasgow.
Around 100 people gathered in Leeds on Friday evening and there were 60 in Swansea, including Labour MP Geraint Davies.
Up to 50 protested in Oxford, including two Labour councillors and a group of Oxford university students. There were also 50 at the Chesterfield protest.
On Saturday, over 100 people joined a protest in Brighton, 50 people gathered in Bristol, 80 in Nottingham, 35 in Coventry, 50 in Colchester and 25 in Norwich. There were also protests in Bournemouth, Bangor and Leicester.
There were 100 on the protest in Lancaster. Audrey Glover reports, “Speeches included one from a ten-year-old Sudanese boy whose mother organised a solidarity protest with the revolution in Sudan a couple of weeks back.”
Hundreds also joined the Scottish TUC union federation annual anti-racist march on Saturday in Glasgow.
Organisers said: “Whether organising against the far right, campaigning for the closure of Dungavel, the fight for justice for Surjit Singh Chhokar or the ongoing fight for justice for Sheku Bayoh, trade unionists have stood shoulder to shoulder with the BAME community.”
The group has also highlighted efforts to “push back” against Home Office immigration raids following successful protests in Glasgow’s Kenmure Street that stopped deportations in May.
The STUC said, “We take inspiration from the Kenmure Street protests, but dawn raids have not stopped and they are just one inhumane example of the UK government’s racist immigration policy.”
Ariound 70 people joined the Stand Up to Racism protest in Edinburgh on Sunday. Speakers included representatives of the EIS and PCS unions, Stand Up to Racism and the Socialist Workers Party. Positive Action in Housing and The Welcoming supported the event.
Banners included messages such as “Borders Kill”, “Justice for Climate Migrants”, “Refugees welcome” and “This is Priti F*cked”.
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