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Hastings turns out for refugees

It was national news recently when it was reported that people on Hastings beach shouted ‘horrible’ abuse as they tried to block the launch of the local lifeboat on the way to assist a small boat in distress carrying refugees. One consequence of this was that donations to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) shot up. Another was that the Council statement on the matter had no Councillors’ names on it. On Saturday 11 December there was a demonstration on the Stade on behalf of refugees. Bernard McGinley was there with many others, and took the photos.

In late November, 27 people drowned in the English Channel when their tiny boat sank. The Stade rally was organised jointly by various organisations: Hastings Stand Up To Racism, Hastings Supports Refugees, Hastings Community of Sanctuary, the Refugee Buddy Project of Hastings, Rother and Wealden, and Together With Refugees, in an attempt to explain the issues (including the defects of government policy) and why people risked their lives trying to cross the Channel. 

The co-chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, Polly Gifford, began with a minute’s silence for the recently drowned, before introducing the other speakers. Jane Grimshaw of Hastings Supports Refugees spoke of the different manifestations of local support, compassion and solidarity.

Gulwali Passarlay, Afghan refugee

Firsthand witness

An Afghani, Gulwali Passarlay spoke passionately. He was forced to flee Afghanistan aged 13, in 2007. Now a graduate of Manchester University, published author (The Lightless Sky) and TEDx speaker, he explained the reasons for opposing the criminalisation of the RNLI for giving assistance, as government draft legislation seeks to do.

He also spoke movingly of injustices and the impact of dehumanisation, and the deterioration of the asylum system.

Journalist, broadcaster and campaigner Nadene Ghouri gave a harrowing account of Afghanistan in and since August, and how friends and associates were being ‘disappeared. She explained how refugees needed help and an international coalition had come into being, to do work that official organisations had failed to. Helena Kennedy QC was among the supporters. The recent statement of ex-diplomat Raphael Marshall to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee was commended.

The criminalising of refugees was objected to, as seeking asylum is not an offence. 

She emphasised that the the ‘New’ Taliban now governing Afhanistan were as vicious and murderous as the old one. 

A refugee from Pinochet

A Chilean refugee of the 1970s, Rossana Leal, spoke of the forms of damage involved in fleeing a homeland. As a founder of the Refugee Buddy Project she explained how volunteers provided badly-needed financial and emotional support — and generosity, solidarity and respect. ‘We socialise, dance and eat’, she said, and went on to criticise government hostility to refugees, and various forms of intimidation and disadvantage. 

The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently proposed for legislation, was said to be against the Human Rights Act and related frameworks. Having survived fascism in Chile, she advocated sustained resistance and insisted that ‘Refugees are welcome here’. 

Local Councillors Andy Batsford and Maya Evans also spoke, praising the courage and endurance of the refugees, the provision for under-18s, and the importance of compassion. The involvement of local people and HBC officers was also cited, and the impact of grassroots action. Several other councillors were in the crowd.

Future legislation an aspect

In conclusion, Simon Hester of Stand Up to Racism spoke powerfully on the political context of events, and of the Channel disaster as avoidable. He also related the legal context to the threats to Roma people, to punitive proposals for statue defacing, to discrimination, and the example of Black Lives Matter in shifting opinion.

A major rally against the Nationality and Borders Bill is planned for London on Saturday 19 March 2022. Notoriously its Clause 9 seeks to strip certain people of their UK citizenship without warning, a clear form of second-class citizenship, as many (including former Brexit Secretary, David Davis MP) have pointed out.  

It was an well-organised and orderly demonstration, that ended as rain came on.  The importance of diverse support (goods, money, shelter, time, campaigning, protesting) was one lesson, and how all support was appreciated.

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Posted 20:23 Sunday, Dec 12, 2021 In: Campaigns

6 Comments

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  1. Erica Smith

    @Alex, I’m one of the many millions surviving on minimum wage, and I welcome these refugees. Unlike DAR and yourself, I’m happy to show my full name in the comments – and write articles for HOT, not just comment ‘below the line’.
    I expect if we all did DNA tests, we’d be amazed at the mixed heritage that we come from.
    Great article, Bernard. I’m sorry I’ve only just read it.

    Comment by Erica Smith — Friday, Jan 21, 2022 @ 23:22

  2. Bernard McGinley

    Thanks for the serious comments.

    250,000 homeless people in the UK is strangely close to the official figure of 268,385 homes in England empty for at least 6 months, stated in November 2020, and reported in the Big Issue in October 2021. (Why are there so many ‘long term’ empty properties?)

    HBC’s Empty Homes Strategy is now little heard of, despite the compulsory purchase option said to be a ‘strategic priority’. The Council statement on the lifeboat incident wasn’t a press release.

    As Passing-By suggests, why pit the most unfortunate against each other? Obviously there are serious problems, and also neglected remedies.

    The Stade rally was in part about protecting the right to asylum, under threat from the pending Nationality & Borders Bill.

    If the country can absorb oligarchs and non-doms, why are immigrants (noticeably very hardworking) such a problem (as Brexit has just shown)?

    Refugees to Britain include the Freuds, Freddie Mercury, Lord Dubs, Joseph Conrad, Lord Moser, Mo Farah, Michael Marks (founder of M&S), Shappi Khorsandi, Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Lord Grade, Rita Ora, Louis-Philippe and many many others.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Sunday, Dec 19, 2021 @ 00:39

  3. Passing-By

    Hello Alex
    Quite agree
    The status quo is absolutely appalling, however, especially during the Christmas period a more charitable approach may be more appropriate, instead of pitting the most unfortunate against each other
    Surely, the real culprits are the self-serving loons who provide a global environment for the ridiculousness of billionnaires to exist without paying their share of taxes, to share any wealth that may exist,
    so we can all look after each other?

    Comment by Passing-By — Saturday, Dec 18, 2021 @ 11:33

  4. DAR

    Hurrah for illegal queue-jumpers! And why are those opposed to this invidious trade nearly always portrayed as racists? It just doesn’t necessarily follow. I’m not going to criticise the RNLI’s actions – no-one wants anyone to drown – or condone any of this stone-throwing, but neither can I honestly side with anyone involved in supporting these illegal – and unfair – operations. No doubt I’ll get some flak for my comments, but I bet I’m not the only one in Hastings who feels this way – despite the presumptuous “Hastings Welcomes Refugees” banners.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Dec 16, 2021 @ 15:07

  5. Alex

    There is approximately 250,000 homeless people in the UK and millions living in sub standard housing and just about surviving on minimum wage.

    Comment by Alex — Wednesday, Dec 15, 2021 @ 23:15

  6. Lyndsay Tomlinson

    A huge “Well done” to all the people who organised and supported the rally. Hastings is definitely “My kinda Town”!!

    Comment by Lyndsay Tomlinson — Tuesday, Dec 14, 2021 @ 17:38

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