I went to the Refugee protest in London today. I got the train down from Birmingham in the morning. The train ticket alone cost more than the amount of money that asylum seekers in the UK get each week to live on (£36.95 per week). The protest was organised on Facebook. It started on Park Lane and then we walked to Parliament Square where newly elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a speech – his first political statement since winning Labour leadership three hours earlier. I don’t know how many thousands of people were there. I would guess around 50,000 at least.
This is 30,000 more people than Cameron has agreed to accept from the growing global refugee population. He announced last week that Britain would only accept 20,000 refugees over the next five years – and these would only be from Syria – which ignores the thousands of Afghans, Eritreans, Sudanese, and many other nationalities who are fleeing war, famine and conflict. Compared to the likes of Germany who have agreed to accept up to 800,000, this tiny number of refugees is laughable. Britain is punching well below its weight.
Walking along with the crowd of protesters, holding banners and shouting ‘Say it loud, say it clear, Refugees are welcome here‘, I must admit I found it quite emotional at times. In a good way. The joy on people’s faces. The possibility. The (naive?) thought that collective action might lead to change. Who am I kidding, I know that protests don’t work. Attending the 2003 anti-Iraq-war protest along with one Million other hopeful citizens taught me that.
I don’t know whether its the culmination of having seen the situation in Calais first hand recently, or just the scale of this emergency, but the affectual and emotive side of things came to a fore. Either way, it was wonderful to be among people who were singing from the same hymn sheet.