My Photos of the Refugees Welcome March in London, Sept. 17, 2016

18.9.16

Refugees Welcome Here: the march in London on September 17, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here – and, to show solidarity, join the more than 1.3m people who have signed the petition to the UN endorsing the UN Refugee Agency’s belief that all refugees deserve to live in safety.

Yesterday (September 17), a “Refugees Welcome Here” march and rally took place in London, following up on a massive march in support of refugees that took place in March, which I photographed and wrote about here. Organised by Solidarity with Refugees, the event (on Facebook here) had the support of dozens of organisations, including Action Aid, Amnesty International UK, Freedom From Torture, Friends of the Earth, Help Refugees UK (the main provider of support in Calais), Hope Not Hate, Oxfam and Stand Up to Racism.

There were many thousands of people on the march, which was colourful, noisy and positive, with numerous passionate and poignant handwritten placards and banners, as well as placards produced by some of the many organisations supporting the march.

However, it was impossible not to be disappointed that there were not many more people marching, as the largest humanitarian crisis in the lifetimes of anyone born after the Second World War continues. The statistics are sobering and horrific. As the Observer reported today, in an article entitled, “Why won’t the world tackle the refugee crisis?”:

It is now the greatest movement of the uprooted that the world has ever known. Some 65 million people have been displaced from their homes, 21.3 million of them refugees for whom flight is virtually compulsory – involuntary victims of politics, war or natural catastrophe.

With [almost] 1% of the world’s population homeless and seeking a better, safer life, a global crisis is under way, exacerbated by a lack of political cooperation – and several states, including the United Kingdom, are flouting international agreements designed to deal with the crisis.

In the UK, we are collectively, and, in general, turning our backs on their plight as time goes on. As I wrote when I promoted the march on Facebook, I was marching “to show solidarity with all the refugees hoping to be welcomed in Europe, but finding themselves unwelcome — perhaps doubly so in the UK, now that 52% of those who chose to vote in the referendum voted for us to leave the EU.”

I added, “When did you last hear anything in the mainstream media about the colossal humanitarian crisis that is still ongoing, and the refugees that we in Europe, amongst the most privileged people in the world, are turning our backs on? We should all be ashamed.”

Promoting the event on Facebook, Solidarity with Refugees wrote:

Last September, the image of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach horrified the world. 100,000 of us marched in London in response to tell our government that we want to welcome refugees in the UK, and to stop the drowning. Since then, thousands more terrified and desperate refugees, including hundreds of children, have lost their lives trying to reach safety in Europe.

This September, world leaders will meet to discuss the refugee crisis at two crucial summits. This is the biggest opportunity of 2016 to show our government and the world that Britain is ready to welcome more refugees.

It is indeed a great opportunity, but as the Observer noted today:

This week’s two major summits in New York, called by the United Nations general assembly and by President Barack Obama, are coming under intense criticism before the first world leaders have even taken their seats.

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and refugee charities are among those accusing both summits of being “toothless” and saying that the declaration expected to be ratified by the UN on Monday imposes no obligations on the 193 general assembly nations to resettle refugees.

The Obama-led summit, meanwhile, which follows on Tuesday, is designed to extract pledges of funding which critics say too often fail to materialise.

Steve Symonds, refugee programme director at Amnesty, said: “Funding is great and very much needed, but it’s not going to tackle the central point of some sharing of responsibility. The scale of imbalance there is growing, and growing with disastrous consequences.”

He said nations were sabotaging agreements through self-interest. “It’s very, very difficult to feel any optimism about this summit or what it will do for people looking for a safe place for them and their families right at this moment, nor tackle the awful actions of countries who are now thinking, ‘If other countries won’t help take responsibility, then why should we?’ and are now driving back desperate people.

“Compelling refugees to go back to countries where there is conflict and instability doesn’t help this awful merry-go-round going on and on.”

Solidarity with Refugees’ Facebook post continued:

Many British people have responded to the tragedy they see unfolding on their doorstep with extraordinary displays of humanity and generosity. They’ve been moved to act after seeing many thousands trapped in camps in Greece without running water or baby formula; thousands of people drowning in the Mediterranean as refugees seek increasingly dangerous routes to safety since the closing of borders and the sea route from Turkey; the continuing misery of the camp in Calais; the injustices and inefficiencies of Britain’s own asylum system.

80% of Britons want our government to do more to help. Polls now show that 1 in 4 of us would welcome a refugee in our own home. We want to tell the government that we are waiting to help. The UK should be leading the way and working with other states to give refugees safe, legal routes to asylum, ending the trade in people smuggling.

Since the referendum campaign and vote, divisive rhetoric has been ever more prevalent from a small but vocal minority. In the light of this, the need to come together in a spirit of welcome has become even more acute. Most of us are keen to welcome refugees, and we need to make it clear to everyone that this is the case.

The post concluded, “Last year, in the week of our demonstration, the government agreed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees. We know that public pressure can make a difference.” That is true, but unfortunately, as the Guardian reported yesterday, Solidarity with Refugees director Ros Ereira said that “progress since then has been much too slow.” She said, “We were really excited to hear the agreement was made. I was always going to wish it would be more and better than that – but it was a huge step in the right direction. We are not on track to be meeting that commitment at the moment and of course we need to be doing more. The situation is growing, there are people dying and we need to stop that happening.”

As the Observer noted today:

In Britain, both Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and Labour’s Yvette Cooper have called on Theresa May to do more when she goes to New York on Monday. Just one sixth of the cash pledged at a summit hosted by David Cameron in London in February to tackle the refugee crisis in Syria has materialised.

Cooper said May needed to show leadership, especially on the situation at Calais. “She must go to this summit to galvanise support for refugees and show that Britain can and will meet our commitments. Right now the decisions parliament and our country have taken are being mired in red tape and government is foot-dragging. Britain has always done its bit to help those fleeing persecution: we have to live up to those values again.”

Farron said he welcomed Obama’s initiative but added: “I am doubtful that anything more substantial than warm words will materialise from this high-level meeting. The thousands of desperate people still drowning in the Mediterranean are testament to the failure of the international community, especially our own government and states across Europe, to safely and fairly deal with refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, as well as those escaping the poverty of failed states in Africa.”

A link to the photos is also posted below:

Refugees welcome

6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, about yesterday’s “Refugees Welcome” march in London, and also linking to my photo set on Flickr. It was a wonderful show of solidarity, but not enough people were there, and when you realise that the numbers of those shopping in London dwarfed those caring about the unprecedented humanitarian crisis that is happening right now it’s a rather sad indictment of our humanity. Rather sadly, I must also note that I believe the outcome of the EU referendum three months ago has done nothing to encourage people in Britain to care about the millions of people fleeing death and destruction who are desperately in need of shelter, support and refuge.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Ghais Aljundi shared these photos, he wrote:

    My friend Andy Worthington

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Ghias. We were doing our bit in London, but the work you’re doing in Greece, and the work people are doing in Calais, is so much more important.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghias Aljundi wrote:

    Our aim is one. Proud you are my friend

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Likewise, Ghias, and one of these days we will meet up again!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing. Here’s the latest on this week’s UN and Obama summits: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/18/refugee-crisis-rests-on-obama-summit-un-talks-fail

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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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