Hundreds of people attended a rally in Oxford on Sunday calling upon the UK to welcome more refugees fleeing war and desperate situations in the Middle East and Africa.
The ‘Refugees Welcome in Oxford’ rally, which took place outside the Sheldonian Theatre, attracted families with young children, secondary school and university students and pensioners alike. The event began at 3pm and finished with a march at 4:45pm.
Speeches were made from many prominent campaigning figures calling upon the Government to do much more and were warmly received by the crowds gathered. Messages on home-made posters displayed by members of the crowds included “We welcome refugees (Given the chance),” “We are all human,” “Love not Hate – Refugees Welcome in Oxford,” and “Albert Einstein was a refugee!”
The Government announced yesterday that the UK will take in up to 20,000 Syrian refugees from UN camps over the next five years. By comparison, it is estimated that 18,000 refugees reached Germany over the weekend alone. Today Sigmar Gabriel, the Vice Chancellor of Germany said that his country can cope with at least 500,000 asylum-seekers per year for several years, while repeating demands for other European countries also to take their fair share.
Kate Attwooll from Oxford, told Cherwell at Sunday’s rally “I work as a humanitarian in South Sudan and see first-hand the suffering and dire situations women, men, girls and boys experience on a daily basis. It’s shameful that the UK has taken this long to show compassion and open its borders to human beings in need.
“Today the people of Oxford have spoken: we welcome refugees here and the Government needs to take action now.”
Eleni Stamou, who is Greek but lives in Oxford, commented to Cherwell at the rally, “The initial response [of the British Government] was quite terrifying and cold but it is still not adequate.
“The two crises are coming together in Greece, and it’s making an explosive mix which is terrible for the refugees and is stirring up far right sentiment. Once again you see asymmetry in European policy. We need to realise that Europe needs to share these problems.”
Neville Dowley from Oxford, when asked why he felt it was important to attend the protest, stated simply, “The main thing for me is compassion.”
A message from Andrew Smith, Labour MP for Oxford East, asked that a “strong message of support and solidarity for the march” be conveyed from him in his absence owing to a prior commitment. He added “Britain has a clear duty to take significantly more refugees.”
He went on to say in his message that he has received more constituent emails and letters on this issue “than any other ever” and that he had already written to the Prime Minister saying that “we can and must do much more”.
In relation to the practicalities of welcoming refugees in Oxford, the MP told the assembled crowds “I will work with City and County Council [to enable Oxford] to provide the support that people need.”
Bob Price, the Leader of Oxford City Council today told Cherwell, “The Government’s announcement yesterday, while welcome progress, does not meet the expectations of the people of Oxford and their clear will to help.”
“As the 20,000 refugees will be accepted over a period of five years, that equates to a very small amount of refuge being offered by the UK in the face of this human crisis, which is disappointing.”
With regard to possible challenges facing Oxford in accepting refugees given its existing housing crisis, he stated that, “Since the Government’s plan is to prioritise orphans, the focus of the response required from Oxford will be more on finding foster homes rather than additional housing.”
Lucy Brinicombe, who lives near Oxford and attended the rally, told Cherwell, “It’s great to see so many people here showing concern for people who are trying to flee great danger. I’m hopeful that at last we’re going to see Britain being compassionate as opposed to hostile, and the scare-mongering we’ve seen is going to be a thing of the past.
“It shows an outpouring of care and people wanting to do something. There is a basic instinct to care for other people.”