Safe Routes Now Vigil in Folkestone 28.11.2021

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

On Sunday 28 November at 12 noon around 120 people gathered on Sunny Sands Beach in Folkestone to mark the tragic and avoidable deaths of at least 27 people in the Channel on 24 November. The main demand of all attending was that safe routes be immediately provided to those seeking sanctuary in the UK so that no one else dies making this dangerous crossing.

This is the speech that I gave:

“Hello, my name is Bridget, I am a Folkestone resident and I work for a refugee charity, although today I am speaking in a personal capacity. I organised today’s vigil because I was absolutely devastated by the totally avoidable and unnecessary deaths of at least 27 people in the Channel on Wednesday.

These were 27 fellow humans who simply wanted to find a safe place to rebuild their lives. They were people just like you and me. They were sons and daughters, they were loved, they had hopes and dreams.

Can we please just take a minute to reflect in silence and mourn their loss.

Thank you.

The most frustrating thing for me is that we knew these deaths would happen. We all knew it. Every refugee and migrant charity has been warning of this. Without a change in the absolutely inhumane stance of the government it was only ever a matter of time.

We are standing only a short distance from where refugees, displaced from Belgium during the first world war, reached dry land after making the dangerous Channel crossing in small boats.

In just one day in August of 1914 sixteen thousand people arrived into Folkestone harbour. Many local people did all they could to provide warm clothes, beds and food. A painting hangs in our town hall showing a welcoming party receiving the tired travellers.

That compassion and kindness shown to people in need seems to have gone missing. It’s not missing in our communities who do so much to support and welcome refugees, but it’s gone missing from government. There is no moral compass. They have lost their way.

They blame everyone but themselves for the situation they have created.

Who do they blame?

They blame people smugglers. I tell you this right here and now, no one would use a people smuggler if they had a better option. They are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Give people a safe route and you kill their business model overnight.

They blame the refugees. They should stay in France apparently. Well, let me tell you, most of them do. France accepts many, many more refugees than we do. We do very little in comparison and we absolutely have to step up and do our bit. This isn’t negotiable. We don’t get a free pass because of our geography.

They blame France. France, who already accept far more people than we do. Apparently they need to stop people who have a perfect right to seek sanctuary in the UK from doing so.

All of this is to defect attention from the people who are to blame for this appalling situation and that is our government.

So what can you do?

Well I’d urge you all to write to your MP to make sure they know that you want safe routes offered to those in need. I know you might say that there is no point, but they need to hear it. So please take 5 minutes to send an email.

Secondly please support refugee charities, particularly smaller ones that need your help the most. I work for Kent Refugee Action Network so obviously I would recommend them but there are so many great organisations doing fantastic work out there. Make donations of cash if you can, but you can also support them by amplifying their work through your own networks by sharing social media and telling your friends about them too. In particular try to amplify the voices of those with lived experience of seeking sanctuary.

Thirdly please be vocal about your support for refugees. Every time there is an awful situation like this recent tragedy we are overwhelmed at work with offers of help. Sometimes it’s difficult to get anything done because of the volume of support coming in by phone, email, social media and letters. So we know that Kent is a place of kindness and compassion. You wouldn’t always know that from reading comments on social media and I would encourage you to post positive comments where you can. There is an amazing Facebook group called #iamhere and they do great work at changing the narrative and allowing the many of us with shared values to express our support for fellow humans.

And finally wherever and whenever you can make the argument with strength and passion for safe routes to be made available urgently. It’s the best way we can to honour those who have already lost their lives.

Thank you.

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I work for a refugee charity and live on the Kent coast

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Bridget Chapman

Bridget Chapman

I work for a refugee charity and live on the Kent coast

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