This is our country. We must fight for it

This is our country. We must fight for it

Four weeks ago I discovered to my horror that people in my home town were planning an anti-refugee demonstration outside a local hotel housing asylum seekers. I was shocked that this was happening on the streets where I once walked to school; I’m proud of my town, and I’ve always believed it to be open, fair, and welcoming to strangers. Now I was worried that if I saw the demonstrators in among there could be someone I went to school with.

A group of friends wanted to arrange a counter protest, but it was difficult. We’re not far from Knowsley, where in February a demonstrated at another asylum seeker hotel turned violent. A difficult memory. Some felt a counter protest might “inflame the situation”, and though it better to do nothing.

But when the far right feels, as it did in Knowsley, they’ve had a ‘success’, they are emboldened, and the anti refugee attacks increase – as they have in Knowsley. And that’s why one cold, rainy night after work, a small group of us traipsed through the streets to the hotel, and stood against the demonstrators for several hours.

They were a gang of thugs. We were a mixed group of young and old, men and women, all from different walks of life, all united by a refusal to allow defenceless, vulnerable people have abuse hurled at them.

And the following week we had to do it again.

But the second week we had time to get organised. There were more of us and we have banners and signs, which made all the difference – recognising who we were supporting, passers-by began shouting their support, motorists waved and hooted their horns. Feeling the warmth of real support from the local community was amazing. At one point, when the demonstrators shouted “go home”, a policeman lost his temper and yelled, “They’ve got no fucking homes.”

Since that night people have worked hard to reach out to the community with amazing results. By the time we reached the fourth week, no anti refugee protesters turned up at all.

It heartens me immensely, but I have to remember – this wasn’t a one-off incident in my hometown, or in Knowsley, but a bigger battle for the very heart and soul of our country.

Because hate is being sown by Government ministers and it serves a sinister purpose that goes beyond culture-war electioneering. Talk of ‘invasion’ and ‘foreign criminals’ frightens people, and when people are frightened it is easier for them to accept extreme new laws like the Illegal Migration bill.

This bill will strip thousands of refugees of the most basic rights, imposing mandatory detention that will destroy the souls of thousands of people, and forced deportation which could make our country complicit in human rights abuses.

It is supposed to stop the people smugglers, but if the Government truly wants to “stop the boats” there is a far more effective way to do it.

If we gave safe passage to refugees in Calais who have viable asylum claims, we could transfer them to the UK safely and assess their asylum claims here. That would put people smugglers out of business overnight; it’s as simple as that. All we would need to do is a short, online assessment to work out who has a viable claim, and then issue an online paper that would act as visa.

Four weeks after that first demonstration at the hotel, the other side had given up. The lesson: you can win fights like this – but you have to be brave.

Right now we need to have the same fight for our country. It will take the same courage and work and determination, but it will be worth it. This is our home, all our home towns, and our country.

Clare, volunteer

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About Care4Calais

Care4Calais was founded by a group of volunteers with the sole aim of supporting the people of the Calais refugee camps, providing fresh meals, warm clothing, heating and important legal and medical support.

We are not politicians – we are people like you who simply believe that every human has the right to be treated in a fair and dignified way.

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