Channel deaths: Protesters speak out to welcome refugees to Birmingham

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Hundreds of supporters gathered in Birmingham city centre to show their support for refugees

Refugee campaigners in Birmingham have criticised UK government refugee and asylum policies claiming they are creating a ‘hostile environment’.

The protesters spoke out in response to the deaths of 27 people attempting to reach British shores from France in a rubber dinghy last week.

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It was the largest recorded tragedy in the English Channel. The boat sank near Calais on Wednesday, November 24.

Among those who drowned were 17 men, seven women - one of whom was pregnant - and three children, France’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Five people have been arrested in connection with the fatal crossing.

Responding to the humanitarian tragedy, protests were held in Birmingham and London calling for the British government to be held to account.

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Migrants sitting on the beach look on as an RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat carrying migrants approaches a beach in Dungeness(Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)Migrants sitting on the beach look on as an RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat carrying migrants approaches a beach in Dungeness(Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Migrants sitting on the beach look on as an RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat carrying migrants approaches a beach in Dungeness(Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

What happened at the Birmingham protests?

On Saturday, hundreds gathered in Birmingham city centre expressing their support for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution and war.

Chanting “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” the Birmingham residents held banners and posters criticising Home Secretary Priti Patel and the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policies aimed at deterring a safe passage for refugees seeking asylum in the UK.

Co-organised by Migrant Voices and Stand Up To Racism Birmingham, children attending the rally displayed hand-made signs stating “Don’t let them drown” and “We are all human beings”, while one attendee shared a placard with the words: “Priti Patel, once you were yourself a refugee”.

How many refugees are there in the UK?

According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 132,000 refugees living in the UK in 2020 and 86,000 asylum seekers living here in 2021, people awaiting an outcome of their application for refugee status.

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Around 27,000 vulnerable refugees were resettled in the UK between 2014 and 2021. These were mostly escaping civil war.

The UK accepts a smaller number of refugees compared to neighbouring European countries including France and Germany.

Protesters welcome refugees to BirminghamProtesters welcome refugees to Birmingham
Protesters welcome refugees to Birmingham | Migrant Voices

What do the campaigner say?

Jonahid Miah joined campaigners at the demonstration in High Street.

“I’m here because I feel so alarmed and distressed and alarmed by the deaths in the sea, the loss of life of not just children but adults as well. I do feel helpless but I feel like I need to give a voice to this issue and that’s the reason why I’m here,” he said.

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“But I feel the world is such a disconnected place and collectively we need to take responsibility to come together. It’s really, really sad what is happening but I believe our government is responsible.

“Priti Patel, she herself was of migrant ancestry and now she wants to close the border, it’s disgraceful.”

Protesters of all ages unite to show refugees they are welcome in BirminghamProtesters of all ages unite to show refugees they are welcome in Birmingham
Protesters of all ages unite to show refugees they are welcome in Birmingham | Migrant Voices

Ed Freshwater, who attended the rally with family and friends, expressed anger at the government’s treatment of vulnerable refugees.

“The way I felt about what happened in the Channel, it was entirely predictable, indeed it was predicted.

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“It was entirely the result of the policies of this government, the government have got blood on their hands!

“It’s shameful, it’s despicable, it’s inhumane , and it’s utterly, utterly heartbreaking.”

“It’s really important in the face of the government’s really horrific, hostile, compassionless and inhumane policy; is to show solidarity with refugees, no matter if they’re in this country or if they’re trying to get to this country, wherever they are in the world.

“We need to demonstrate our vocal solidarity with them.”

Refugees are welcome in Birmingham - protesters unite in support following Channel deathsRefugees are welcome in Birmingham - protesters unite in support following Channel deaths
Refugees are welcome in Birmingham - protesters unite in support following Channel deaths | Migrant Voices

Young activist Hope Ryan from Birmingham said international governments could only stop ruthless people smugglers if they provided safe alternatives for those fleeing war and tyranny.

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“Words can’t describe how frightening the places they must’ve come to ever get on that dinghy, and what we have to make absolutely clear is the reasons why ordinary people, like you and me, have to get on those boats and put themselves at risk is not because of the smugglers.

“The smugglers are growing because the Tory government and other governments, the French government and so on, are not giving refugees their international human rights to claim asylum.”

Protesters take to the street to show refugees are welcome in BirminghamProtesters take to the street to show refugees are welcome in Birmingham
Protesters take to the street to show refugees are welcome in Birmingham | Migrant Voices

Nazek Ramadan, director of national charity Migrant Voice, works with refugees and asylum seekers who have made similar journeys to the UK. She believes these deaths could have been prevented.

“These were unnecessary deaths and there have been warnings for years and years for the government to do something to create legal routes, so people don’t end up resorting to risking their lives in order to save their lives.

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“The situation is really bad, it’s terrible and I hear all the talking is about borders, about control, about security and fences; there’s very little about those people who are fleeing wars and persecution and who would like to come and seek asylum here.”

Nazek feels there is too much emphasis placed on negative misinformation and not enough on the human cost of restricting free movement.

“There’s no point just blaming France all the time because 3 to 4 times more people actually claim asylum in France, maybe 4 times as many people claim asylum in Germany and other countries so not all asylum seekers want to come to the UK and there are good reasons for those who do. It’s time we speak about the people, they’re human beings we’re talking about.

“In terms of safe routes, there’s almost no way for asylum seekers to come to the UK. There are no routes, they can’t just go and apply. They have to be in the UK to apply and it’s not possible for them to come. There are a couple of settlement schemes but they are very small.

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“According to the new proposal by the government, they would like everyone to wait in refugee camps for years and years and people who have agency or decided to save their life and their children’s and make that move themselves will be penalised and punished under the new immigration bill.”

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