Photo credit: Claudia
On Saturday the 23rd of April, up to 200 people attended a public display of solidarity at Bristol’s harbourside. The crowd held signs which stated ‘Refugees are welcome here’ and ‘Seeking Asylum is a human right’, listened to speeches and performances and signed petitions in opposition to the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill (which passed through Parliament on Wednesday 27th of April) – particularly the plans to offshore those seeking sanctuary to Rwanda. Over 1,000 leaflets that countered the government’s misrepresentations and explained what the legislation meant were handed out to the public.
Many of the speeches touched on themes of division and complicity. They discussed the role of complacency, how we have perpetuated racist and classist myths and how this has created an environment in which the Nationality and Borders Bill and Offshore Processing have become reality. There were discussions about the cost of implementing such expensive yet ineffective and inhumane measures in our current cost of living crisis and the awful irony of pushing this bill through at a time when so many Britons are opening their homes to Ukrainians seeking sanctuary. Of course, there was mention of differential treatment, notably the hypocrisy from ministers who voted for the Nationality and Borders Bill despite expressing public support for Ukrainians seeking sanctuary.
There were discussions of Rwanda Offshoring specifically. Speakers expressed concern about many elements of this plan. They discussed Britain shirking its own responsibility to those seeking sanctuary and concerns about human rights violations if this plan goes ahead, with particular mention made to those seeking sanctuary who are LGBTQIA+ and Rwanda’s previous human rights record. They drew parallels to Australia’s use of offshore processing and the extreme human rights violations which occurred in many cases in their detention centres.
The speeches and performances encouraged the crowd to think about what they could be doing in their everyday lives to tackle not just the Nationality and Borders Bill and Rwanda Offshoring, but also general sentiments in society which have created an environment in which such an inhumane and ineffective bill can be passed into law. Speakers gave suggestions for further action, such as writing to your MP, signing Bristol City of Sanctuary’s open statement, utilising social media and being active supporters of causes by giving your time and attention, not just your money. They called for equal support for ALL those seeking sanctuary, and many emphasised that in order to make a change, we must come together.
People in the crowd expressed that it was wonderful to see people standing in solidarity, and great to know that they were not alone in opposing the bill and offshoring more specifically. Some spoke of their own experiences, or experiences of those they know, and said that the one thing that the government and supporters of this bill seem to forget is basic: humanity. They expressed that policies such as this deny those seeking sanctuary basic humanity, and act to take even more from those who have already lost everything.
The Red Notes choir had the crowd chanting ‘You’re more than welcome here’ in a wonderful conclusion to the event.
We would like to extend our thanks to all those involved: in supporting, in organising, in the speeches and performances. Despite the bill’s passing, the event showed an outpouring of solidarity with those seeking sanctuary and showed that despite the government’s efforts to push hostility, inhumanity and punishment, we can still fight against this and say #NotInOurName. Now, we must turn our attention to keeping up the pressure, spreading the word and pushing for a repeal of this horrific bill at the earliest opportunity.
We leave you with a poem performed by Bristol Poet Lawrence Hoo, called ‘Lost Voice’