AN ESTIMATED 10,000 people gathered in Park Lane, London on Saturday 17th September for a march and rally to demand that Theresa May and her government fulfil their obligations under international law to admit more refugees to Britain to help to alleviate the growing world refugee crisis.
The march, organised by Solidarity with Refugees, Amnesty International, the Stop the War Coalition and a number of charities was one of many around the world aiming to put pressure on the United Nations summit for refugees and migrants, which began in New York on Monday and was hosted by US President Barack Obama. Theresa May also attended this summit.
Currently there are 65 million displaced people and another 20 million in danger, the highest number since the end of the Second World War.
Marchers carried banners and placards from many diverse organisations, parties and community groups. Prominent slogans were: “No-one is illegal”, “Stop the drowning”, “Choose love” and “Be human”.
The speakers at the rally in Parliament Square, where the huge march from Park Lane concluded included Green leader Caroline Lucas, Labour peer and veteran campaigner Alf Dubs as well as actors Vanessa Redgrave, Douglas Booth, Juliet Stevenson and Liberal Democrat campaigner Shas Sheehan.
Vanessa Redgrave told the rally: “Citizens in this country, of whatever background, all want to obey the law. There are human rights laws. The present government and previous governments, Labour, coalition and Conservative, have been breaking international human rights law. We must hold them to account.”
Lord Dubs, who arrived in Britain under the Kindertransport programme for Jewish children as a six-year-old fleeing Nazi persecution, said in his speech that the Government has been “pretty hopeless” at dealing with the issue.
He told the crowd as he pointed towards Parliament: “I tell you, speaking here is a million times better than speaking in there. There is only one thing that is shifting this government and that is the force of public opinion and that means you.”
Solidarity with Refugees director Ros Ereira there had been a lack of leadership over taking action on the issue. “This week is going to be Theresa May’s first opportunity as our Prime Minister to represent us at a global summit.
“I really hope she is going to set the tone for what kind of a country we can be post-Brexit and with her new leadership. Hopefully she will want to portray us as an open, tolerant, welcoming society that wants to play an important role on the global stage and lead an appropriate global humanitarian response.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas told the rally that the solution to the refugee crisis is “not just humanitarian, it is political will”. She added: “It is not a crisis of the numbers of people coming, it is a crisis about the way the Government is managing it.”
She accused the Government of “failing to recognise that those seeking refuge in the UK are not desperate to come here, they are just desperate”.
According to the UN’s refugee agency, more than 3,200 people have died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year. Figures show a total of almost 300,000 people have attempted the journey and thousands remain stranded in Greece and Italy in poor living conditions.
Last year’s Refugees Welcome event attracted 100,000 demonstrators according to the organiser and took place shortly after the publication of pictures of refugee toddler Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach.
Following that rally, the Government agreed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. But, Ros Ereira said, progress since then has been much too slow.
“We were really excited to hear the agreement was made,” she said. “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.”