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Solidarity with Refugees demo, 17 September 2016. Photo: Jim Aindow

Solidarity with Refugees demo, 17 September 2016. Photo: Jim Aindow

Protesting is crucial to maintain pressure on Theresa May, both to reverse policy and end the wars that create refugees, reports Jonathan Maunders 

Chants of 'Say it loud, say it clear: refugees are welcome here' and 'Theresa May, here us say: let them in and let them stay' echoed through the streets of central London as the demonstration to support refugees roared towards Downing Street on Saturday afternoon.

In a climate of seemingly increasing xenophobia across European countries, perpetuated by governments, the demonstration was hugely significant in maintaining resistance to racism and fighting to reverse this dangerous trend. The demonstration once again displayed the passionate anti-xenophobic sentiment spreading throughout the country as refugees continue to suffer from the effects of war and the racist policies of abandonment by European leaders.

Though the demonstration was organised by Solidarity with Refugees – a plethora of different charities – groups and campaigns could be seen as the procession paced towards Parliament. Moreover, the breadth of organisations, campaigns and charities represented pertinently illustrates the people of this country's refusal to let Teresa May and her government freely turn its back on millions of innocent refugees desperately in need of shelter and aid.

As the march concluded, demonstrators congregated at Parliament Square to be addressed by an array of speakers, including Caroline Lucas, Jeremy Hardy and actor David Morrissey. The speeches, aided by poetry and videos, stressed the desperate conditions and hopelessness faced by those displaced from their homelands.

After hearing harrowing story after harrowing story, one was struck by the necessity for such demonstrations to become a more regular occurrence on our streets. Only then can we mobilise the numbers and generate the momentum needed to force the government to abandon policies of xenophobia and instead urgently bring down borders and welcome in refugees to provide them with the care, security and hope that they deserve.

Help Refugees, an organisation that grew out of the hashtag #helpcalais, has calculated that there are 7,300 refugees at the infamous Calais ‘Jungle’ alone; the UN has estimated that the number of those displaced across the globe roughly equals that of the UK population. Statistics such as these highlight the desperate need for radical action as well as accentuating the contempt with which May’s government holds people in despairing need.

Speaking to a number of demonstrators throughout the afternoon, a sense of immense frustration was palpable. In particular young people I spoke to seemed exasperated that similar demonstrations were needed just a year after a series of historic protests seemed to heap pressure on David Cameron for similarly xenophobic policies.

While it was impossible not to share such frustration, it’s important to stress the necessity of such a demonstration and outline how continuous action could mount momentous pressure on Theresa May to alter course. This is a simple argument to make but one that can be highly effective in refuelling spirits and reenergising the movement ahead of what must become a compelling campaign to reverse government policy towards refugees, and end the wars that create refugees in the first place.

Saturday’s demonstration stressed the need for a British government that instinctively acts to aid and protect refugees, further emphasising the need to rally behind Jeremy Corbyn in his seemingly unstoppable charge to leadership retention and the hard battle for a socialist government that must surely follow. 

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