When a friend phoned Jane Grimshaw and said: refugees have just arrived on our beach, what should we do, she didn’t think twice: “I grabbed the children’s snacks and drinks for the week and took them down there,” she told a rally in Hastings. The Hastings Beach Response Team was born, and is now ready to welcome the exhausted, bedraggled people who arrive on the town’s shores, often up to nine hours at sea.
An appeal went out to help supply refugees with some essential dry joggers for people arriving soaked, tired and hungry on the town’s beaches. Spend £5 in Primark, people were urged. The result: the store sold out within a week. And a crowdfunding appeal, launched in June by Hastings Supports Refugees to raise £5,000, has now topped £29,000.
Hastings Community of Sanctuary has been overwhelmed by the response when refugees arrive – such as local businesses providing chips and hot drinks. So organisers were delighted but not surprised when several hundred people turned up to a rally in the Old Town to show their support.
Cllr Andrew Batsford said Hastings would always do all it could to welcome these desperate people (from troubled areas such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen) who were just seeking what everyone wanted, a decent life for themselves and their families.
Speakers at the rally included journalist Nadene Ghouri, who has been working round the clock to help those trying to leave Afghanistan. She recently managed to secure safe passage to Spain for the family of man who had just been executed by the Taliban. She helped another woman to secure funds for a caesarian operation.
The problem, she said, was that safe, legal passage out of the country for those seeking asylum was increasingly being blocked. Despite claims to be helping refugees, the British government, along with the US, has been leaning on ‘lily-pad’ countries like Albania and Greece to limit or withdraw temporary visas. This leaves the treacherous route through Pakistan the only option for those fleeing terror.
Speakers Rosanna Leal and Gulwali Passarlay drew attention to the iniquities of the Nationality and Borders Bill going through Parliament, particularly Clause 9 which gives the government power to strip people of their citizenship without warning.
Rosanna said two out of every five ethnic minority people in Britain were now at risk. In response to a Commons statement on the bill by the town’s MP Sally Ann Hart, she insisted: “Citizenship is a right, a human right, not a privilege.”
Rosanna, who runs the Refugee Buddy Project, was herself once a refugee: her family fled the vicious Pinochet regime in Chile in the early 1970s. So too was Gulwali, who describes his escape from Afghanistan as a young boy in his book The Lightless Sky. The Bill’s Clause 9, they pointed out, is inconsistent with Britain’s human rights obligations. A petition opposing it and calling for a parliamentary debate is still attracting support.
Peace activist and local councillor Maya Evans, who has visited the Afghanistan several times and is active in raising money for those in need there, drew attention to the bigger picture.
The capitalist system has a stake in promoting division and conflict, she said. Military investment consistently outperformed stock markets: making money for already rich investors and big corporations… at the expense of poor, marginalised people everywhere.