JRS joins thousands on London rally for refugees

JRS UK supporters at St James', Spanish Place
JRS UK supporters at St James', Spanish Place

Supporters and volunteers from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS UK) joined thousands of people including MPs and celebrities on Saturday, for a march in London to urge the UK government to take more action over the refugee crisis. The Refugees Welcome demonstration took place two days before the start of a UN summit for refugees and migrants in New York, which will be  attended by world leaders, including the Prime Minister, Theresa May MP.

Ahead of the march from Park Lane to Parliament Square via Downing Street, JRS UK supporters took part in a service at St James’ Church, Spanish Place, which was addressed by the Director of JRS UK, Sarah Teather, and a number of refugees who have been supported by the Jesuit charity. They then joined the crowds on Park Lane for the event that had been organised by a groups that work with refugees including Solidarity with Refugees, CAFOD and Amnesty International.

The demonstration of solidarity with refugees followed a conference in Rome last week entitled ‘Global Migration and Refugee Crisis: Time to Contemplate and Act’, at which Jesuit alumni were addressed by Pope Francis. He challenged those present to be guided by the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius of Loyola, telling them: “At this place and time in history, there is great need for men and women who hear the cry of the poor and respond with mercy and generosity.” The Pope urged delegates to respond to the refugee crisis “through acts of mercy that promote their integration into the European context and beyond”. Reminding them of the need to move beyond the statistics, he said that migrants and refugees “are no different than our own family members and friends ... Each of them has a name, a face, and a story, as well as an inalienable right to live in peace and to aspire to a better future for their sons and daughters.”

Before the rally: Bishop Jonathan Clark, Fr Mike Smith SJ, Victoire (a refugee) and Sarah Teather

Welcome the stranger - as family

"It was wonderful to join so many people on the streets of London on Saturday, all sending a message to the government and the media that refugees are welcome here," said Sarah Teather. "There was a great atmosphere and such a mix in the crowd, from young children to pensioners. We had a brilliant turn out from our volunteers." Sarah also introduced Victoire - a refugee and a volunteer at JRS - at the ecumenical service before the march. She is pictured right with Bishop Jonathan Clark, Fr Mike Smith SJ and Sarah. "This was also an important reminder that God calls on us to welcome the stranger amongst us and to recognise them as family - our brothers and sisters," she said. "Victoire spoke at the service with such power and conviction when she told her own story and thanked those who had supported her. I think people were hugely inspired by her words."

On Saturday's mSome of the placards on the Refugees Welcome rally: Nimko Ali via Twitterarch through London, the JRS banner was one of many colourful signs; posters and placards proclaiming 'No-one is illegal', 'Stop the drowning', 'Choose love' and 'Be human' were also evident. The crowds were addressed by a number of celebrities and politicians, including the Brighton Pavilion MP, Caroline Lucas, who stressed: “It is not a crisis of the numbers of people coming, it is a crisis about the way the government is managing it.” The Director of Solidarity with Refugees, Ros Ereira, agreed: “This week is going to be Theresa May’s first opportunity as our prime minister to represent us at a global summit,” she said. “I really hope she is going to set the tone for what kind of a country we can be post-Brexit and with her new leadership. Hopefully she will want to portray us as an open, tolerant, welcoming society that wants to play an important role on the global stage and lead an appropriate global humanitarian response.”

Following a Refugees Welcome rally last year, which attracted an estimated 100,000 demonstrators, the UK government agreed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. Figures show that almost 300,000 people have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year and thousands remain stranded in Greece and Italy where they are living in appalling conditions. According to the UN’s refugee agency, more than 3,200 people have died or gone missing attempting the journey in 2016.