THE BLOG

Refugees Welcome Here

22/03/2016 10:03 GMT | Updated 22/03/2017 09:12 GMT

As tens of thousands of people in London and other British and continental European cities marched this past weekend in support of welcoming refugees, the question remains: "Are we really willing to take them in?"

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An estimated 15,000 people from all over the UK, including refugees from countries torn apart by war and other conflicts around the world, marched to Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday. Demonstrations also took place in Belfast, Edinburgh Glasgow, Cardiff, Brighton, and other cities and towns. Notably, tens of thousands gathered in Denmark in support of the refugees.

But not everyone on the streets of London was in favour. Britain First occupied the steps of the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus, raising Union Jack flags and mysteriously-worded posters proclaiming: "Veterans before Migrants". Surrounded by a substantial police guard, they numberered fewer than a hundred. That's roughly one to every 150 people calling for a more welcoming policy towards refugees.

Repudating the failure of European states

The far larger number of pro-refugee activists on the streets than in some previous demonstrations, is further evidence of continuing public concern, repudiating the failure of European states to respond adequately to the thousands of men, women and children fleeing wars and devastation.

Reports from Denmark say tens of thousands were on the streets, rising up against the decision of their parliament which two months ago passed legislation designed to deter refugees from entering the country. The legislation - widely condemned by international campaigners -- allowed police to seize refugees' assets.

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In the UK, the refugee campaign, #refugeeswelcome, reports that 1,403,691 people have signed on to back their efforts, 620 local campaigns are underway and more than 700 landlords up and down the country have offered properties.

That is in addition to more than 40 local councils who have offered sanctuary to refugees fleeing from the fighting in Syria. Six months ago, David Simmonds of the Local Government Association's asylum, refugee and migrant task force said councils in England were already supporting 2,000 unaccompanied refugee children at a cost of £50,000-a-year for each child.

Half a nation's people driven from their homes

With the war in Syria now in its fifth year, even if current international efforts at a limited ceasefire succeed, around half of the country's population of 22 million have been driven from their homes and a quarter of a million are estimated to have been killed.

"Unless something big is done to resolve this conflict through political means, the human train that has started moving out of Syria and the neighbourhood will continue to be running for many months to come," Facoub El Hillo, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria, told Reuters.

The evidence of public willingness to offer sanctuary and support to those fleeing the carnage continues to mount. This is inspite of reports in mainstream media of nationalistic, exclusionist political movements like the Front National in France and Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) in Germany.

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Over the same weekend that thousands marched in London, the BBC's farming programme, Countryfile, profiled an East Anglian farm - part of the Care Farming UK organization - that is offering therapeutic support to refugees.

The farm's Director Doeke Dobma invites those who have fled war to spend time working together on the land. "My mum had horrendous experiences during the Second World War," he said. "As a small person, born here, the least we can do is offer and show compassion."

Among those interviewed on the programme during its visit to the farm was a refugee from Kurdistan. Asked why he left, he said, "Every single night there were people shooting. People missing, people kidnapped. That's why I came here."

Care Farming also provides the support to local people. Among them, on Sunday's broadcast, was Malcolm who suffers from dementia and has been coming to the farm for six years.

"What about these refugees you are working with now?" he was asked. "What do you think about that?"

"Good idea," he said, "putting them on the farm. It can bring them back to life."

Then he turned to those who would keep the nation's doors closed to refugees. "Those people who say they shouldn't be here - I don't think they live in the real world. They don't know what it's like to be in a war torn country. I think this is a brilliant idea."