‘OPEN the doors, let them in!’ shouted trade unionists and youth and their families taking part in Saturday’s 8,000-strong Refugees Welcome, Anti-Racism national demonstration in central London.
There were banners from Unison, Unite, NUT, PCS unions as well as anti-racism groups.
News Line spoke to several participants before they set off from outside the BBC, Portland Place to the rally in Trafalgar Square.
RCN member Abby Hone, a nurse from Dulwich, said: ‘There’s so much money in this country and we’re not helping these refugees, many of them children, who are dying in those camps. They are innocent people who have been displaced through politics and war. It’s shocking that the British government is ready to use the Royal Navy against refugees in the Mediterranean.
‘It is using our money, it’s not what the majority of the British people want. I work in the NHS. It’s getting tighter. Resources are spread much more thinly. We’re working long hours and we can’t do our best for the patients because there are so few (resources). There’s not enough doctors and nurses. I support the junior doctors taking strike action.
‘All the unions should support the junior doctors and take action with them. The NHS is a service everyone calls on at some point in their life. The government’s priorities are wrong. They spend so much on defence instead of helping people, both refugees and British people.’
Tammy Samede, an unemployed care worker from Wembley, said: ‘I’m opposed to how this government is treating refugees. They are creating the refugees by bombing other countries. The refugees aren’t the problem, the government is as colonisers and resource thieves. The government and media shouldn’t be calling them migrants, they are refugees fleeing from danger and war. The unions need to organise a general strike. We need leaders that are going to listen to their members, not pander to the government.’
A trainee social worker, Anna Robinson from Brighton, told News Line: ‘I’m here to join the people in showing we are not OK with racism and to say refugees are welcome.
‘We are all humans and we deserve all the same human rights. We need to encourage people to stand up for what they believe in. It says we are fighting a war when we should be helping people and offering our support and welcome.
”The government is cutting everything, especially social care. They must not cut disability allowances or any social care, that’s disgusting. There’s so little support for vulnerable people. I’m 100% for kicking this government out!’
Dover resident Beccy Sawbridge from Kent Anti-Racist Network, said: ‘We are here today to show our solidarity with the plight of refugees. As a lifetime anti-racist, this is the place to be. As a former merchant seaman, I think it’s a disgrace this government is using armed forces for its jingoistic claptrap rather than looking after people.
‘Having survived Thatcher, I think Cameron and his crew are even more spiteful than she was, and using capitalism to put people down. Using the British Navy against vulnerable people trying to cross the Mediterranean from the mess that the government has contributed to making is worse that wicked.’
Leicester law student Susan Shyla said: ‘I’m here to welcome everybody and to remember discrimination exists. I’m not willing to ignore it. Cameron’s plan to use the Royal Navy against refugees fleeing Libya is typical of the Tory reign. One of the things that hit home with me as the way Cameron referred to Syrian refugees as an “infestation”.
‘He’s targeting and scapegoating a minority because it’s easy. The Tories are blaming refugees for the ills of the country – that’s nonsense and disgusting. You can’t feel anything but sympathy for people who are trying to save their own lives. If I was in that situation I would do exactly what they are doing. If you bombed my house, I would leave and go somewhere else.
‘The unions need to take action. I feel as a student we’re not using our power, that’s the problem. The unions need to start using their power and refuse to do the things the government want them to do. If there was a general strike, the government wouldn’t last a day. I agree there should be a general strike for a workers government. We need a government that represents the people and not the big business minority.’
Leicestershire housing support worker, Unison member Christian Newby, said: ‘I’m here because I believe in humanity being human. We should accept everyone as they are. There is too much segregation, too many wars and too much poverty. The Tory government needs to be brought down. Refugees should be welcomed and not demonised as they are, especially by the media.
‘I believe in people, in the love they have for each other no matter what their ethnicity of where they’re from. Everybody should stand together in times of struggle. The unions are not taking enough action, they should be taking more. There should be a general strike.
”Everyone should walk out with the junior doctors – send a more powerful message. The doctors are fighting for the NHS. I came to a big march last year but nothing more happened. Everyone needs to take action, it’s too fragmented at the moment. We need to bring down capitalism.’
Daniel Round from Stourbridge, a support worker for people with learning difficulties, said: I’m here to stand up for refugees. I’ve got Syrian and Iraqi friends and I know their humanity and plight. It’s shameful what this Tory and previous Labour governments’ policies towards refugees are and were.
‘Today is a good way to build solidarity. People are making the connection between racism and austerity. We need to take mass strike action. We need to strike after this Budget across all sectors. Ideally, everyone should take action with the junior doctors. There is mass public support for the doctors so the conditions exist.’
Restaurant manager Ollie Bartram, who works in Greece and Spain, said: ‘Using the Royal Navy against refugee boats is appalling. It’s totally inhumane! I don’t understand the logic. These people need help not being shot at. And taking away their boat is going to be dangerous. Europe is a dream for some to go to. It’s a shame that Europe has decided to look inwardly and not outwardly and try to solve problems.
‘The EU-Turkey deal is pathetic. It’s not helping solve the issue – it’s just going to make things worse. The refugees are not going to be any safer in Turkey. It’s being run similar to a dictatorship.
‘Britain at the very least should be letting more refugees in. Given the size of the economy, we’ve got more than adequate resources to house more refugees. We need to make people more aware of what the government is actually doing rather than what the BBC is telling us.’
West London student Cairo Clarke told News Line: ‘It’s sad how the government does not value people and lives. It’s quite disturbing. The government is looking at people as commodities rather than human lives. It’s great so many people come here to live in Britain. My family came here from India and Jamaica years ago.
‘It’s what makes London and the UK so special, to have such a mixed heritage. A country like ours should be a place to welcome everyone. Instead, the government has another agenda. I don’t agree with what the government is doing in general. They are not representative of people with all the cuts they are making, the difficulty with housing, everything. There needs to be a positive change collectively. There should be a general strike to kick the Tories out!’
At the Trafalgar Square rally, Maz Saleem, the daughter of the Pakistani immigrant who was murdered by a neo-nazi, told the crowd: ‘Racism has always played the role of dividing people. We should oppose it. This country has always nourished refugees. Islamophobia is a product of war, it victimises children. We need to hold out and encourage refugees. Say it loud and clear – Refugees are welcome here!’
Stephanie Lightfoot Bennett of United Families and Friends Campaign declared: ‘It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win we have nothing to lose but our chains.’
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: ‘We say stand up to racism, refugees are welcome here.’ She added: ‘We want a society that is for unity and decency.’
Gloria Mills brought greeting from the TUC. She said: ‘Refugees should not be treated as a political football by EU countries. They should be welcomed not greeted with warships as has been proposed. We have to stop the EU from outsourcing its obligations. The EU-Turkey deal is about trading refugees. They are not commodities to be traded between EU states.
‘We must reject this one-in, one-out deal. We must say refugees are welcome here
‘We will stand firm and say no to racism and no to discrimination.’
Marilyn Reed, whose daughter died in prison, said: ‘Everyone is saying Sarah, my daughter, was not just a person with mental health problems, she was a mother and a daughter. She was put in Holloway where she was mistreated and given medication.
‘She was on remand. She was found dead. I wouldn’t like to know she died in vain. I would like all the agencies to take note that prison isn’t the place for people with mental issues. It needs to be stopped.’
17-year-old Amyna from Iraq addressed the rally. She told News Line: ‘Syria and Iraq are all in the same situation. We have run away from ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We would be in our own home if we had peace. We did until the UK and US made war on us. When I was five years old the war by the US and Britain came to Iraq.’
Other speakers included UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, CWU general secretary Dave Ward, a speaker from Disability Action who cheered the resignation of Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, and Vanessa Redgrave.