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Polly Gifford, right, with back to camera, co-chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, addresses the meeting in the Stade on Sunday (photo: Nick Terdre).

Vigil on the Stade to mourn family drowned in Channel

A well-attended vigil was held in the Stade Open Space on Sunday to mourn the family of five who lost their lives in the Channel last week. Seeking refuge is not a crime but a legal right, Polly Gifford of Hastings Community of Sanctuary told the gathering. Nick Terdre reports.

Despite the wind and rain, a crowd of some 90 people attended a vigil in the Stade Open Space on Sunday evening to mourn the family of five who drowned in the Channel last week attempting to make the crossing to Britain. Social distancing was respected and most of those present wore face coverings.

The gathering was addressed by Polly Gifford, co-chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary which organised the event. She recalled the names of the Kurdish Iranian family whose desperation to seek asylum in this country led them to take to sea in an overcrowded boat: the parents Rasul Iran Nezhad and Shiva Mohammad Panahi, both 35, daughter Anita, nine, and sons Armin, six, and 15-month-old Artin.

Along with several other refugees, they drowned when the boat sank in rough conditions not far from the French coast. Artin’s body has not yet been found.

A minute’s silence was held in memory of the family, who had already made two unsuccessful attempts to reach Britain by train, according to press reports.

Photo: Richard Wistreich.

Their and our humanity

We may not always know the reasons why individuals and families take such risks, Gifford said. “What matters is their, and our, humanity.

“Seeking refuge is not a crime, it is a human right. This country needs to play its part – instead we make it almost impossible to seek asylum through official or legal means.

“We should be proud to be a place of refuge and sanctuary, and Hastings demonstrates that by all the great activity that is done by Hastings Community of Sanctuary, Hastings Supports Refugees and projects like the Refugee Buddy Project and LINKS. And by almost 100 people who came to stand in the rain to show solidarity.”

Hastings Community of Sanctuary and other refugee support groups have urged the government to establish safe and legal routes for refugees to reach this country so that further such tragedies can be avoided.

‘Safe Passage’ amendment

The so-called ‘Safe Passage’ amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill would keep the door open for a few children stranded in Calais and elsewhere in Europe who are seeking to be reunited with family members in Britain – though voted down in the Commons, it has been reinstated by the Lords.

The bill comes up for its third and final reading in the Commons on Wednesday 4 November. Local MP Sally-Ann Hart signed the amendment when it was first proposed, then changed her mind and has since opposed it, as she says she will do again on Wednesday, HOT understands.

Gifford also drew attention to the Lighthouse Project in which up to 50 local residents will stand on the beach one night this month and shine torches out to sea, creating a lighthouse effect to guide refugees to shore.

Devised by Rosa Torr, the project is a collaboration between Hastings Community of Sanctuary and Hastings Supports Refugees. Those wishing to take part should email Rosa Torr (

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Posted 12:32 Tuesday, Nov 3, 2020 In: Politics

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