People to rally in Hastings in solidarity with refugees

Residents are holding a rally in Hastings this weekend to show support for refugees who risk their lives crossing the Channel in small boats.

The event - dubbed Hastings Rally For Refugees - is due to take place at 2pm on Saturday (December 11) at The Stade in Hastings Old Town. There will be speakers, stalls, petitions, and a donation drop-off point for trousers, T-shirts and underwear. It is not known how many people will attend the rally, but a vigil at The Stade for the 27 people who drowned in the Channel last month attracted 250 people with just 24 hours’ notice.

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The rally is being organised by Hastings Stand Up To Racism, Hastings Supports Refugees, Hastings Community of Sanctuary, and The Refugee Buddy Project of Hastings, Rother and Wealden.

A child's shoes left on a dinghy on Hastings beach. Pic: Simon Hester SUS-210912-094513001

Simon Hester, secretary of Hastings Stand Up To Racism, 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 this week. MPs approved the bill on its third reading by 298 votes to 231, a majority of 67.

Simon added: “At least 27 people drowned in the Channel because our Government has blocked off safe routes to people claiming asylum. The gap between rich and poor is growing but Priti Patel would have us believe that our jobs, homes and hospitals are threatened by a wave of refugees and migrants. This is classic scapegoating. We reject the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ for refugees, which can only lead to more tragedies in the Channel. We demand safe passage for the desperate people stranded in northern France and say clearly – refugees are welcome here.”

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.

A child's shoes left on a dinghy on Hastings beach. Pic: Simon Hester SUS-210912-094502001

Maya said Hastings is a community of sanctuary and has a strong tradition of welcoming refugees and migrants, adding: “I’m proud that the majority in this town want to help and support people fleeing persecution, the generosity and support of our residents is truly humbling. Hastings is a town which looks after the most vulnerable and celebrates diversity. Our communities are strong and we take pride in looking out for one another.”

Polly Gifford, co-chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, said: “The support we’ve received over the past few weeks from people across the town has been amazing, so we know people care deeply about the issue. The rally is an opportunity to come together, alongside other community partners, to raise a collective voice in support of refugees and people seeking sanctuary - and to speak out against a bill that we believe goes against our values as a community of sanctuary.”

Alex Kempton, from Refugee Buddy Project, said with the Nationality and Borders Bill returning to Parliament, it is “crucial” people come out and show solidarity for all refugees and migrants.

The rally’s organisers say 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.