London protest demands safe passage

On Wednesday evening, protestors demonstrated outside the Home Office to demand safe passage for migrants making the crossing over the Channel. Rob Owen reports.

Photo by Steve Eason.

About 100 people held a protest and vigil outside the Home Office on Wednesday evening to mark the tragic death of Abdulfatah Hamdallah, a young man from Sudan who died while crossing the Channel in a small makeshift boat.

Abdulfatah lost his life making the dangerous journey across the Channel out of desperation as conditions for migrants in Calais continue to deteriorate. As the reduction in road traffic during the pandemic has made passage through the Channel tunnel more difficult, more and more migrants have felt forced to travel by boat during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unless activists in the UK and France take urgent action, the English Channel risks becoming Europe’s next watery graveyard as thousands more risk the deadly journey. Government sources estimate thousands have already attempted to cross the world’s busiest shipping Channel this year.

Photo by Steve Eason

The news of his death came just weeks after Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed to make crossings ‘unviable’ despite heavy criticism from civil society and migrant groups. Her comment reflects a callous disregard for the lives of those fleeing war, repression and poverty and living in appalling conditions in Calais. The British and French governments’ response has been to look to the example of FRONTEX in the Mediterranean which has policed the world’s deadliest border between the EU and North Africa. The experience of the mass protests in solidarity with migrants in 2015 and recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests show there is the potential for an alternative anti-racist response to gain traction.

Voices from the protest

The government response to the humanitarian crisis in Calais has been to fuel racism and attempt to shift the news agenda away from its own mishandling of the pandemic. Protestors spoke out against attempts by the British government to escalate efforts to repel migrants who have already endured horrors and risked their lives to flee poverty and war, and called for safe and legal routes for migrants coming to the UK.

The protest, which had been called before Abdulfatah’s death by a coalition of leftist organisations and migrant solidarity groups, had added poignancy with speeches from supporting groups broken up by minutes of silence and reflection about the death of – a then unknown – young man.

One activist said:

“While Britain is heading for the worst economic collapse in Europe, victims of war, poverty and climate breakdown are being scapegoated by the Government. People are forced into attempting dangerous crossings due to the lack of safe and legal routes into the UK.

“The loss of a Sudanese child’s life in the Channel yesterday is further proof of the racist nature of the UK’s immigration controls. While rich Westerners can travel freely a Black child has been forced into a deadly crossing to seek a better life.”

Many of the speakers spoke out about the inhumane attempts by the Tories to scapegoat migrants. A spokesperson from Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants drew attention to the hypocrisy of official condolences:

The migrant crisis is a myth. The reality is the Tories are again using refugees to scapegoat an economic and social crisis of their own making.

The death of a child is not just a tragedy but a preventable one. When Priti Patel extends her condolences she does so knowing her policies will kill even more people and leave many stuck in an inhumane asylum process.

Joining the dots

Activists from London rs21 had been central to organising the protest, building upon our solidarity work with Sudanese activists and involvement in migrant solidarity campaigns. Charlie Jackson spoke for rs21 outlining the situation in Sudan and the role of imperialism in creating the conditions that breed instability and mass migration. Charlie finished on the need to link the cause of migrant solidarity to the wider movement – arguing that the attacks trialled on migrants at and inside the border today will pave the way for attacks on unemployed and precarious workers tomorrow.

What next?

The demonstration was modest in scale but is an important marker in orienting activists towards resisting the sharp edge of the government’s attacks and building outwards in the post-Corbyn era. The inspiration of the Black Lives Matter protests show there is a large constituency attuned to the racial injustices of the system and open to drawing the connections between issues and fighting for a different future.

Activists around rs21 are involved in and committed to developing campaigns in solidarity with migrants and building it into our wider work in workplaces and communities. If you are interested in getting involved in rs21 and supporting our work please read more about us here and get in touch.

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