Winter is coming, Jeremy Corbyn warns at Refugees Welcome rally

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Thursday 05 November 2015 12:10
news

More than 900 people attended a Refugees Welcome rally in London on Wednesday to hear Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones and others call on the government not to let refugees freeze as winter sets in.

At the full capacity event at the Camden Centre, organised by Stand Up To Racism, the Labour Party leader said:

We are going through a humanitarian crisis of global proportions.

And our answer to the xenophobes and the naysayers... yes, we will do all we can. Because we care, because we believe, because we are all human beings.

The UK government promised to take in 20,000 refugees by 2017, following increased international pressure in September after the publication of pictures of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach.

However, the UK has not offered to alleviate the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people who have made it to Europe on their own volition. With winter fast approaching, thousands of people are stuck in makeshift slums in Calais and elsewhere without proper shelter, warmth or sanitation.

So far, only 216 Syrians have been resettled in the UK under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme.

At a home affairs select committee session last month, the minister in charge of refugee resettlement Richard Harrington refused to "give a running commentary” on current or projected refugee intake figures.

Corbyn and the other speakers, including Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Diane Abbott, Green Party deputy leader Shahrar Ali and various charity and trade union officials also called on European governments to address the sale of arms and oil to regimes which enable conflicts and pour fuel on the refugee crisis.

Nasmaa, a Syrian refugee who didn't give her last name, took to the podium to tell her story. When her elder brother defected from Bashar al-Assad's army when war broke out almost five years ago, the female members of her family were threatened with rape unless he returned.

She and her family fled to Lebanon, leaving several members behind, but the increasing competition for scant resources and rising xenophobia against the growing refugee population forced them to explore other options.

Nasmaa and some of her family were lucky enough to be given permission to enter the UK, but visas for two of her siblings were refused.

Labour Councillor Michelline Safi Ngongo, who came to the UK from the DRC as a refugee, told the crowd about the stories of death and fear she had heard first hand from people living in the 'Jungle' camp in Calais.

I used to be one of them... You guys in Britain gave me a home, you gave me a future. These people are human beings like you and me. They need hope and a future too.

The prospects for people seeking asylum in places other than Calais remain bleak. While Germany has taken in 800,000 refugees this year, France has pledged to rehome just 24,000, and countries such as Croatia, Serbia and Hungary have closed their borders and erected fences in an effort to stop people claiming asylum on their soil.

Hungarian border police stand guard opposite refugees standing behind a fence at the border with Serbia near the town of Horgos on September 16, 2015.

EU leaders have pledged to take in 160,000 refugees over the next two years, but only 116, or 0.1 per cent, have been resettled so far. The UK has opted out of the official EU resettlement quota.

Wednesday's rally was held as a follow up to the Refugees Welcome march through central London on 12 September.

Corbyn, having won the Labour leader election earlier in the day, made the march to Westminster his first stop, telling a cheering crowd he would pursue political policies that would ensure that “people don't end up in poverty, in refugee camps, wasting their lives away”.

The speakers called on those who want to help to petition their MPs and attend a vigil in solidarity for refugees outside Downing Street on 12th November.

More: Tim Farron asked a question about child refugees at PMQs, so David Cameron made a joke about the Lib Dems

More: This is an astonishing visualisation of the refugee crisis

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