Photos from the ‘Refugees Welcome’ Rally in Trafalgar Square, Mar. 19, 2016

20.3.16

"Donald Trump: World's Biggest Racist": a placard at the "Refugees Welcome" demonstration in London on March 19, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here!

On March 19, 2016, the organisation Stand Up to Racism held a national demonstration, ‘Refugees Welcome’, to send out a hugely important message to the British government and to other EU governments that refugees are welcome in the UK and across Europe. I wasn’t able to make it to the march, which began at Portland Place, although I was determined to show my face, and made it to Trafalgar Square for the rally, where I took the photo set that I’ve just published on Flickr.

I understand that there were around 15,000 people on the march, which is commendable, of course, but I must mention, as I now do every time I discuss protests, that people opposed to the cruelty and indifference of the Tory government need to get out on the streets and make some noise to show their opposition, as there is no indication that sitting back and waiting until the next General Election in 2020 is a plausible course of action to take on a government that is in power despite securing just 24.9% of registered voters, who are also intent on redrawing electoral boundaries to keep them in power forever.

The timing for the demonstration could hardly have been more fortuitous, as the EU has just reached an agreement with Turkey, described by the Guardian as follows: “Refugees and migrants arriving in Europe will be sent back across the Aegean sea under the terms of a deal between the EU and Turkey that has been criticised by aid agencies as inhumane.”

The agreement followed the emergence of a huge refugee camp in Idomeni, a train stop on the Greek-Macedonian border, which, as the Guardian also explained, in an article on March 17, “has become Europe’s biggest favela: an embarrassment to the values the continent holds so dear.”

The Guardian‘s article continued:

Its tents, clinics and cabins lie on mud-soaked land. Its fields, once fertile, are toxic dumps. Its air is acrid and damp. Children dart this way and that, exhausted, hungry, unwashed. Waterlogged tents surround them – women sitting inside, men sitting in front, attempting vainly to stoke fires on rain-sodden wood.

Everywhere there are lines: of bedraggled refugees queuing for food, of scowling teenage boys waiting for medics, of teenage girls holding babies, of older men and women staring into the distance in disbelief. And everywhere there are piles: of sodden clothes, soaked blankets, muddy shoes, tents, wood, rubbish – the detritus of despair but also desperation of people who never thought that this was where they would end up.

Taking in the camp’s chaotic scenes on Tuesday, the EU’s top immigration official Dimitris Avramopoulos, momentarily struggled to find the words. “These are images that offend us all,” he said, young boys breaking into a fight as they scavenged for wood behind him. “The situation is tragic, an insult to our values and civilisation.”

Idomeni was never meant to happen. It is a bottleneck that abruptly occurred when Macedonia – following other eastern European and Balkan states – arbitrarily decided to seal its frontier. At its most intense, 14,000 people – mainly Syrians and Iraqis but also Afghans, Iranians, Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians – have converged on this boggy plain, all bound by a common dream to continue their journey into central Europe.

A map showing the percentage of citizens in European countries who were born in other countries, via Reddit, based on figures from 2012.Like the death of Aylan Kurdi last September, and the shame of “The Jungle” in Calais, Europe’s refugee crisis ought to make Europeans respond with generosity to the greatest humanitarian crisis in most people’s lifetimes, and yet, throughout Europe, the barriers are going up physically, and the emotional shutters too. People who were in most cases brought up in a religious context are shunning the care for those less fortunate than ourselves that all religions demand, and we are, above all, demonstrating a lack of compassion and empathy that I find disgraceful.

Across Europe, people living in some of the richest countries on earth — many living in large houses with generous pensions — are claiming that we have no room to support those whose need is absolute and undeniable.

The perceptions of, and indifference or hostility towards the refugee crisis have, of course, followed on from the general anti-immigrant sentiment that has grown uncontrollably in recent years, in large part through the cynical manoeuvring of politicians and their cheerleaders in the right-wing media, which, in the UK at least, exert a powerful form of control over far too many people.

Once, not too long ago, racism and xenophobia were generally not sentiments to be publicly aired, but that has changed, and open hostility is now, shockingly, commonplace. Part of the problem, I understand, is that immigration has grown throughout Europe over the last few decades, but this is something affecting every country, not just the UK (see the map above for details), and the reason, in large part, is that we in Europe are amongst the richest countries on earth, with the most jobs, while those seeking work and refuge in the UK and the rest of Europe are growing up with few if any opportunities for work, in part because of the predatory policies of our own countries, our cynical deals with dictators, and, of course, our unjust wars — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

A link to the photos is also posted below:

Refugees welcome: rally in Trafalgar Square, Mar. 19, 2016

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, linking to my photos on Flickr of the ‘Refugees Welcome’ rally in Trafalgar Square yesterday, which also provided me with an opportunity to make the case for why we need to deal with this huge humanitarian crisis, uprecedented in most of our lifetimes, with generosity, compassion and empathy. These are attributes that often seem to be in short supply these days – in large part because of cynical politicians and a malignant mass media, which have been encouraging far too many of our fellow citizens to embrace racism and xenophobia in a way that I hoped, for many years, had become unacceptable.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Arnold wrote:

    well done everybody and thank you, will it wake our leaders up???

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I think we need much more action, Pam, on this and on so many other issues, but it’s important that we keep reminding them that we know what’s right and what’s wrong.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Arnold wrote:

    You are dead right there, we aren’t going away and they are supposed to represent us, so shameful, so bad

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, isn’t it depressing, Pam​, how politicians, rarely if ever these days, stand for anything worthwhile? It’s all greed and selfishness, hard-heartedness and stupidity.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Michael Dean wrote:

    Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of over a million people – in a country that had no history of jihadism.
    Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable
    ISIS is the result of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq into a failed state, committed an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS is the result of western state terror delivered by a degenerate imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of their actions taken in the neoliberal bubble they inhabit. Their crimes are proscribed in “our” societies.
    John Pilger

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Michael. Yes, John Pilger has it right – Bush and Blair and other Western leaders bear the blame for this humanitarian crisis, with our actions from Afghanistan to Iraq, to Libya and Syria.
    In addition, I was sickened last year when the British establishment and the media tried to crucify Jeremy Corbyn for being a pacifist – showing their true, homicidal colours.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Solidarity with my brothers and sisters!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan! Your support is always welcome!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    The demonstration on Saturday was also timed to mark the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is today, March 21. See: http://www.un.org/en/events/racialdiscriminationday/
    Other demonstrations took place on Saturday in Glasgow and Cardiff, and in Athens, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen, Dublin, Barcelona, Zurich, Warsaw, Nicosia, and another seven cities across Greece: http://www.standuptoracism.org.uk/2016/03/protesters-london-glasgow-cardiff-reject-governments-trade-refugees/

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Zareen Taj wrote:

    Great photos as always Andy! and the guy holding the D Trump placard led the chanting in front of the main banner at the head of the rally all the way to Trafalgar Sq. He had loads of energy!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s good to hear, Zareen. I was just taking a few snaps quickly of what caught my eye, having missed the march, but I thought he looked like an interesting character!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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