On Tuesday 12th July 2016, just five days after the well-attended rally Norwich Stays, hundreds of people gathered once again in front of the steps of Norwich’s City Hall to show solidarity with migrants in the city and call for the acceptance of refugees.
The overwhelming mood of the rally, similarly to that of the previous Thursday’s, was one of togetherness, and the subject of Solidarity with Norwich Migrants was to affirm unity and support all Norwich residents. As with the Norwich Stays rally, there were a variety of different aims and focuses of the individual speakers and attendees.
Under one of City Hall’s famous bronze lions, a banner read “Refugees Welcome/Let Them In” and several people brought along posters showing their support for migration. One demonstrator brought a large model of a safety pin, an image which has come to symbolise support for migrants in the wake of the rise in hate crimes in the UK. Others brought placards, which carried slogans such as “Norwich Stands Together” and “Fight Against Racism and Islamophobia/Defend Civil Liberties”.
The main catalyst for the event had been the spike in hate crimes since the EU referendum, something which had been brought close to home by the attack on a Romanian shop in Magdalen Street the week before. However, the strong turnout for Solidarity with Norwich Migrants showed their support not just for EU nationals living in the city, but all migrants from every background.
Some who had spoken at Norwich Stays again expressed their views, this time more pointedly towards the issues of migration and multiculturalism, and they were joined by new speakers representing a variety of different religious and ethnic groups to complete a lineup of thirteen speakers.
Read a summary of what each had to say underneath their photographs below:
Katy Jon Went, who delivered one of the outstanding speeches of Norwich Stays, this time opened proceedings by admitting “pride” at the positive migration figures in Norwich, pointing out that migration had taken place throughout human history. Went continued: “people are born without hate. Hate is something that is taught.”
Went then welcomed Andrea Abraham to the stage, the daughter of the Romanian shop’s owner. Abraham admitted her gratitude for the show of solidarity outside her family’s Magdalen Street shop where visitors left messages on paper hearts attached to the chipboard in a visually impressive show of defiance against the attack’s perpetrators. The fact that some of the messages had been translated into Romanian was, said Abraham, particularly touching.
The successful JustGiving campaign set up to help The Village Shop after the event was also highlighted. To date the total stands at over £30,000, more than 6,000% above the original £500 target. Abraham predicted that the money raised would be more than sufficient to restock the shop, which volunteers helped to clear out in the aftermath of the attack. The rest, it was said, would be donated to other worthy causes.
Next to speak was artist Marcia X who discussed the Black Lives Matter campaign in the USA and used this to address issues of race-relations in Norwich too. Marcia spoke of the experiences of friends who had been attacked and said that “we have to do more” than just help during crises to reduce discrimination in society, urging witnesses of hate crimes to “say something” and not remain silent, as we have the “responsibility to be part of change” and not leave it to others. “Silence on the part of an ally,” Marcia concluded on behalf of her friend, “is consent. Do not consent. Speak out, when I cannot because of fear.”
George Szirtes, a Hungarian born poet who has worked as a professor at the University of East Anglia, was next, and he treated the crowd to a short, humorous poem he had written about current political events. Before that, Szirtes said he was “proud of Norwich” for a number of reasons: the ‘remain’ majority in the EU referendum, the good attendance at the recent rally, and the response to the attack on The Village Shop. He also spoke of the warm welcome he and his family had received after arriving as refugees.
Samantha Rajasingham spoke next, recounting her personal experiences of migration, highlighting anti-immigrant rhetoric. Rajasingham applied to move to Britain for marriage, and spoke of the stress that the visa application process can put on migrants who have “left [their] social network behind.” Rajasingham pointed out that thanks to new legislation, “If you don’t earn enough, you cannot live with the one you love,” attempting to quash the faceless image some people have of migrants.
Dr Becky Taylor followed, a UEA History academic specialising in minority groups and their relationships with wider society. Dr Taylor claimed it was “bad politics” to fail to be pragmatic and use only historical events to make decisions and examined the relationship between the groups of the working class (“given a class identity with no race”) and immigrants (“given a race, or a migrant identity with no class”). When no one raised their hands to say they live in the parish they were born in, Dr Taylor proclaimed “we are all migrants… that’s an identity we all hold”- an extremely important point.
Pa Musa Jobarteh is a coordinator of community organisation Bridge Plus+, concerned with promoting racial diversity and equality. Jobarteh spoke of his belief that “Norwich and Norfolk, and indeed the United Kingdom as a whole, will continue to be a place known for its tolerance and acceptance of diversity.” To close, Jobarteh noted that “we were all once strangers before.”
Fern Richards, an MA student at the UEA, retold some messages from, as organiser Rebecca Tamás explained in her introduction: “queer people of colour, LGBT+ people, and those of Eastern European and migrant backgrounds who couldn’t be here today.” One particularly harrowing tale came from a citizen who told of the “previously closeted racists” of the opinion that those of foreign descent should “go home” and argued that recently, there had been a rise in “subtle racism” which had been “brought to the surface”. “Brexit has given people a reason to be actively racist and to seek out people like me as their targets.”
Chair of the Norwich Liberal Jewish Community Annie Henrique came next, an occasional customer of the Romanian shop owing to its close proximity to her group’s meeting place. Henrique highlighted the range of multi-faith events she had been involved with, including some “calling for the settlement of Syrian refugees.” Praising the “huge crowds [who] gathered to show their support” for the victims of the “disgusting” arson attack on The Village Shop, it was argued that the large collection which followed “shows how the people of Norwich care for all its citizens.”
Muhammad Amin, representing Chapelfield Mosque, spoke of an attack on his place of worship and a similarly comforting response to that of the Romanian shop’s attack. He discussed the frustration at the attacker’s anonymity, asking “how do you resolve that” while also thanking those who had helped. Amin discussed his Irish place of birth and identity, and how he feels it is perhaps harder for British people to be proud of their heritage after colonialism. He disagreed with any “blanket view” of a group of people which can be dangerous, citing his disagreement with the sometimes simplistic view of Brits from an Irish perspective.
Tim Knight-Hughes of the groups Norwich Stand Up to Racism and Norwich Refugees Welcome then delivered an entertaining speech which started with a topical joke. Knight-Hughes even led a chant, “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”. His speech consisted of three key points: firstly, to promote a meeting to discuss a convoy he was part of to take over £2,000 worth of aid to Calais, which was scuppered by the British and French Police who, Knight-Hughes claimed, “said we were a security threat” and said he wanted to bring down borders. Secondly, he referred attendees to a leaflet they had been given to promote a People’s Assembly anti-austerity and anti-racism march in London. Lastly, Knight-Hughes addressed the fact that “we haven’t taken in a single Syrian refugee in Norfolk yet.” His argument, met with applause from most in attendance, was that it was “disgusting. We need to [admit Syrian refugees]. Norfolk County Council have been blocking the decision, UKIP and the Tories in particular.” “Nothing has been done,” said Knight-Hughes after a previous City Council motion to admit 50 refugees, to lead hopefully to “many more.”
“We want to take down all the borders”
Event organiser Rebecca Tamás, having acted as compère for the evening introducing all speakers, took the penultimate slot. She started by saying how “I really appreciate it” that there was such a large turnout despite the “horrible cold weather” and “incredibly short notice.” Tamás explained that she felt the arson attack on The Village Shop was “a disgusting act of hate” and “an attack on the very idea of community itself”. Tamás also argued that migrants and refugees are “criminalised and abused” in centres like Yarl’s Wood, broadening this to include examples of racist oppression across the world. “These are not shadows of the past but the current state of so called western civilised countries.
We cannot, argued Tamás “step back into the shadows” and highlighted the need to “step up” even if advantaged by the “random assignation” of ‘normal’ appearance, to support those who are forced to stand up to “hate… prejudice [and] lack of justice” every day.
Finishing the event was Councillor Alan Waters, who had opened the Brexit rally. He read out a statement from MP Clive Lewis, who was unable to return from Westminster for the rally before offering his own closing reflections. In those closing reflections, Cllr Waters said that the recent EU referendum had “started for the first time a proper debate about our identity, our place in the word and planning for our future.” Cllr Waters identified the “exceptional” contributions of the rally and the “uplifting and inspirational” speakers at the recent Norwich Stays event.
To sum up, Cllr Waters said: “I think there is one identity we can all share, whether we have come to this city yesterday, whether we have lived in this city for generations, whatever our circumstances, wherever we’ve come from, wherever we’re going to, while people are living in this city, everybody is a citizen of Norwich.”
Thank you for your comments on, and shares of, my previous post, Norwich Stays: A Review. View more pictures of Norwich Solidarity with Migrants below: