Brighton residents gather on the beach welcoming refugees

Brighton has a proud history of welcoming refugees and has become a City of Sanctuary.

People of Brighton & Hove turned out in force yesterday, 17 October 2021, to ‘show they’re all heart’ in support of refugees.  More than 200 people from across the city joined together to form a huge, human, orange heart on Brighton beach – the symbol of welcome to refugees.

The event, organised by Sanctuary on Sea and University of Sussex Student Action for Refugees took place as part of the Together With Refugees week of action, which is taking place between Monday 18 to Sunday 24 October 2021.  Thousands of people across the country are joining forces during the week of action to protest against the Nationality and Borders Bill and to call for a kinder, fairer and more effective approach to how the UK is supporting and welcoming refugees.

welcoming refugees

Paul Hutchings from Refugee Support Europe organised the crowd to form a large human heart which has become a symbol of refuge with Maozya, a student from the University of Sussex who runs ‘Student Action for Refugees’, (STAR) on Brighton beach. The orange heart is a symbol of welcoming refugees. It uses the colours of the refugee nation flag created by refugee Yara Said, for the first ever refugee team in the Olympics in 2016. The colours were inspired by a lifebelt representing hope. The heart was developed in 2021 in consultation with refugee organisations and people with lived experience.

The event was a protest against the Borders and Nationality Bill that has already had its second reading and is in the committee stage of its passage through the House of Commons before going to the Lords.

Mr Hutchings said: “The Bill complies with illegal immigration and does not solve the broken refugee crisis as it is. It proposes to assess people who arrive in the country based on how they arrived not on the basis of need.

“For many refugees, the only way to arrive, is irregularly. Lots of asylum seekers are taken to large processing centres like Napier Barracks where there is a history of mistreatment. There is a provision in the Bill to send people to a third country which resulted in abuses and a legal challenge when they did this in Australia. It’s contrary to international law. I do not want to live in a country that doesn’t respect international law.”

“Today is a sticking plaster. There are no fair, safe routes to seek asylum in the UK anymore. This assumes refugees are not deserving. All the refugees I know have two things in mind: To get somewhere safe to live and to build a better life for their families. Offshore detention centres are a breach of human rights. The UK should be welcoming refugees and compassionate.”

Maozya Murray, President of STAR and co-organiser of the event, said: “It was great to see so many people gather today in solidarity with the refugees, asylum seekers and members of our community who are being violently attacked by Home Office policy.

“This Bill passing through parliament is cruel, inhumane, and a flagrant breach of international law. The existence of the Bill, and the support it has received, is yet another example of the hostile environment policies that seek to dehumanise and oppress people. This country should be welcoming and celebrating difference. We stand with the thousands of people across the country calling for a compassionate, effective and moral approach to this bill. It is clear to me that this could only mean voting against it.”

“So many people oppose this violent act as an abuse of humanity. We are on the beach to show that we welcome people onto our shore. We call for compassion and welcoming refugees onto our streets. The Bill is cruel and inhumane and seeks to criminalise and endanger those of us seeking safety and refuge in the UK.”

Brighton beach

The week comes as MPs return to Parliament to consider the Nationality and Borders Bill currently making its way through the House of Commons.  According to the coalition, the new legislation would mean that most people who would be accepted as refugees under the current rules – meaning those confirmed to have fled war or persecution following rigorous official checks – would no longer have their rights recognised in the UK due to their method of arrival. Half of these would be women and children and includes those left behind in Afghanistan.

The new rules would mean that all those who claim asylum after arriving in the UK through an irregular route would face removal to a third country, with their asylum claim only progressing if removal is not possible.

People who arrive irregularly who go on to be granted refugee status would only receive temporary protection with reduced rights and entitlements.  The vast majority of people who claim asylum, ​are unable to access ‘regular’ routes (entering the UK with a valid visa and/or passport) with their only option being to enter irregularly (by boat or in the back of a lorry).

The Refugee Convention makes it clear that people should not be penalised for entering a country irregularly for the purposes of claiming asylum.

Mel Hughes said; “People don’t want to see this ‘all for nothing’ bill where only people who are deemed worthy, are able to stay. The Government is getting rid of the illegal trade in refugees. The Bill is not stopping the criminal aspect. It’s making people unwelcome and not addressing the problem at source. Britain already has a pretty poor record (about immigration) on a European level.”

Oskar from Denmark said: “The Bill is a violation of human and European rights. It’s just another step in the wrong direction, it has all been anti-refugee, anti-immigration rhetoric in the last few years. It’s a disgrace really in the UK, Europe, humanity really, criminalising refugees and their right to seek asylum which is their human right. The UK has just left the European Union and suddenly it’s OK to breach the EU code on human rights.

Russell and Maria were driving up to Heathrow Airport. They said for them, travel is relatively easy: “We saw a line of young men taken from the back of a truck. They looked very frightened right in front of us, on the motorway. The young men were about our son’s age.”

Anthony from Kenya wanted to show support to refugees. He said: “Often what they’re doing, there’s a lot of stigma in the papers for them to address. People can show support. These are the small wins that we can be proud of.”

Nicola Jackson said: “I have befriended Syrians, given them holidays and campaigned for Freedom from Torture. I have been to Afghanistan in the 1970s. I am against the bill in Parliament. The government treats refugees as if they will be a drain on resources. They are taking away legal routes to get here. People should be able to find new homes where they like and not pushed offshore to claim legal rights to seek asylum.”

Together With Refugees is a growing coalition of more than 300 national and local organisations who believe in showing compassion and welcoming refugees fleeing war and persecution. It was founded by Asylum Matters, British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Refugee Action, Refugee Council and Scottish Refugee Council.

The coalition is calling for a more effective, fair and humane approach to the UK’s refugee system that: 1) allows people to have a fair and efficient hearing for their claim for protection, including those who endured traumas and struggle to get here; 2) ensures people can live in dignity in communities while they wait to find out if they will be granted protection; 3) enables refugees to rebuild their lives and make valuable contributions to their communities; 4) and where the UK works with other countries to do its part to help people forced to flee their homes.

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