Hastings Rally For Refugees took place on Saturday afternoon (December 11) at The Stade in Hastings Old Town. There were speakers, stalls, petitions, and a donation drop-off point.
The rally - organised by Hastings Stand Up To Racism, Hastings Supports Refugees, Hastings Community of Sanctuary, and The Refugee Buddy Project of Hastings, Rother and Wealden - attracted an estimated 450 people. Last month, around 250 people went to a vigil at The Stade for the 27 people who drowned in the Channel.
Simon Hester, secretary of Hastings Stand Up To Racism, told the crowd on Saturday: “The drowning of the 27 people two weeks ago in freezing water in the English Channel was not a natural disaster - it was entirely man-made. The Government’s hostile environment for people seeking asylum has led directly to those deaths.” He said there has been a “massive outpouring of support” for refugees and the work of Hastings Supports Refugees and the RNLI in recent weeks. He said the rally was called to highlight this support, and to slam the Government’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill which returned to the House of Commons last week. MPs approved the bill on its third reading by 298 votes to 231, a majority of 67.
Rossana Leal, founder of The Refugee Buddy Project, chanted to the crowd: “Solidarity knows no borders!” And supporters chanted back: “Refugees are welcome here!”
Speaking before the event, Maya Evans, chair of Hastings Stand Up To Racism, said despite reports of hostility towards refugees, local support campaigns, especially Hastings Supports Refugees, have been overwhelmed by volunteers, well-wishers and donations. Donations to the RNLI have also surged after Hastings lifeboat was reportedly blocked from going out to sea last month by people angry at the crew for saving the lives of refugees crossing the Channel.
Hastings Community of Sanctuary said it was an “absolutely brilliant turnout” at the rally, and added: “Hastings stands in solidarity with all those seeking sanctuary with us.”
The rally’s organisers said the Government is scapegoating people seeking asylum, and ripping up Britain’s legal obligations under the 1951 convention on refugees. They said all safe passages for people seeking asylum are being closed down, forcing them into ever more dangerous routes, and the Home Office is “actively seeking to physically ‘push back’ dinghies crossing the Channel using armour-plated jetskis.”
They said the bill will remove the right to claim asylum, criminalise anyone arriving in Britain in a dinghy, and create mass detention camps in Britain or abroad - if the UK pays countries to hold them.
The Government says the objectives of the bill are to deter deadly journeys, increase fairness in the asylum system, and make removals easier.
:: Throughout December, Be Pretty Tanned in Silverhill, St Leonards, is raising money and donations for refugees and the homeless. Every Friday at the shop, people are asked to give to “Be Pretty Warm” - which asks for donations of money, warm clothes, hats and socks to help out Hastings Supports Refugees, Warming up the Homeless, and The Refugee Buddy Project of Hastings, Rother and Wealden. The fund-raising campaign is being organised by Martina Kelly.