We Asked People at a Protest What We Can Actually Do to Make Refugees Feel Welcome
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We Asked People at a Protest What We Can Actually Do to Make Refugees Feel Welcome

It's one thing to show up to a march or sign a petition, but what are some of the practical ways people can fight for a cause they believe in?
September 18, 2016, 2:24pm

Thousands of people walked through central London on Saturday afternoon, as part of a massive protest with a simple message: refugees welcome here. Meeting in Park Lane before winding up along Piccadilly and ending in Parliament Square, the protest drew appearances from volunteers, politicians, a few actors and actresses and a small group of refugees, who led the march.

Monday will see the start of a United Nations summit for refugees and migrants, in New York, so this protest – called by the group Solidarity with Refugees – functioned as a stirring precursor. We sent photographer Chris Bethell down, to talk to people about what others can practically do to show their support of refugees in the UK. At a time when 18- to 24-year-olds report believing most in protests and rallies to enact social change, and those in their 60s have the most faith in signing petitions to do so, we figured we may as well hear from some of the people on the march about what they think can actually be done.

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Chantal Delilkan

We can try and offer decent accommodation and jobs to help get them back on their feet. We need to do more to make them feel like they're actually at home here. We need to make them feel safe as well – it must be really alienating for them here so we need to bring them into our communities.

Liberty Folker (left) and Anne Brook

Anna: They can go away and they can write to their local councils, to their local MPs and can say 'come on, pull your fingers out – it's time to do something to make these people welcome here.'

Liberty: I think on a personal level it's important to speak out to your family, to your friends, the older generation so your grandparents and even strangers in the street if you see something that you think isn't right. Whether it's racism, Islamaphobia, just speak out calmly, rationally and kindly to try and educate people.

Lydia Burke and Jack Richards

Lydia: I think – and this is going to sound very lame – it's about being friendly towards people. Treating them like human beings. There are also a lot of organisations in cities that are doing plenty to support refugees and asylum seekers, so everyone could get involved with those.

Anold Murove and Maryem Chowdhury

Maryem: I think it's important that we treat them like they're our own. At the end of the day we are all one body. It's important that we show them love and respect, and also that we nourish them and cherish them in the way we would our own friends and family.

Alan Mitchell

I think to make people feel welcome anywhere you need to form relationships: form bonds and friendships. We have to break down the cultural barriers that divide us, and reach people on a human level.

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Obviously there's not much we can do about policy decisions except pressure the government. There's warehouses full of donations that need organising, there's fundraising that needs doing, there's public awareness; the word needs to be spread. And also lobbying MPs – this needs to be done all the time. Keep that pressure on.

Barbera and Dom Gwinnett

Dom: First of all, it's important they contribute towards events like this, marches, online petitions, writing to newspapers, writing to politicians and getting in touch with their local councils. Secondly, what they can do is to support people who are being targeted. Talk to them. Don't answer back to the people being aggressive. Just go stand by that person.

Barbera: Local authorities have to provide the infrastructure and that's where voluntary groups can help as well. But the government needs to invest money so that refugees can be settled properly in local communities.

Janet Austen

First of all, call them refugees and not migrants; let's label them properly. Then the British will welcome refugees as we always have. And then I'd like to see individual families as sort of mentors for refugee families so they can learn our peculiar ways. That we all stand around in the rain and do things. We're all refugees in the end and we're all migrants in Britain.

Rodrigo Torres

We need to do what we're doing today, basically, which is to speak for them – to speak on their behalf. At the moment they don't really have a voice. We need to make sure that all their needs are expressed in a way that the world will hear. There's a banner here that the children in Calais made, for example. Any way that we can voice what they have to say is crucial. We are their voice, they don't have anyone else.

Verity Wislocki (left) and Surraya Sumner

Surraya: Change the hatred in the media, because that effects the way everyone feels about the issue.

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Verity: Yes, I think that's one of the important things – to educate the population.

Surraya: We're involved in a local group called Elmbridge Can and one of the things we want to do is to start an education programme to make people understand that refugees are not the ones to blame. People often blame them for problems in healthcare or housing and this isn't the case.

Verity: I'm also producing a documentary about refugees and the media coverage of them. It's going to be called "Another News Story".

Felicity Rose

We can welcome them into the country instead of telling them they can come and then leaving kids in a refugee camp. People can help by giving donations – food, clothes – to the camps where they are running low. They can come out and volunteer. They can stand in solidarity with people.

Thom Flint, Rachel Walker and Beth Childs (left to right)

Rachel: I think the strongest thing at the moment which is making refugees feel unwelcome is the poisonous, negative narrative around the country. It's actually quite intimidating to speak positively about refugees. The bravest thing that people can actually do is walk around and be honest about how they believe refugees are welcome – to talk to other people about it. I really think that'll make a big difference.

Beth: And attending events like these is really important. When you come to something like this, you realise that anyone else can also – you don't need to be super-political to get involved.

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Thom: I think there are ways you can take direct action as well. Getting involved in local volunteering groups is great, especially in major cities. There's one up in Stoke Newington, for example, that meets every Sunday afternoon at a church – it's a space for asylum seekers and refugees to come to. They offer haircuts, English language lessons and things like that.

Caroline Lucas MP, also the Green Party co-leader, speaking outside Parliament Square