Saturday 28 November 2015

St Andrew's Day March and Rally welcomes refugees in the spirit of our compassion and shared humanity

Around two hundred trade unionists, politicians and members of faith and community groups joined together at the Aberdeen St Andrew’s Day March and Rally on 28th November to give a clear and unequivocal message that  in the name of our shared humanity, refugees are welcome here in the North East of Scotland – racism and fascism are not!

As the march snaked down Union Street to the rhythm of the Guarana Drummers, passers by again stopped to watch the colourful procession created by the banners of trade unions and community groups,  led as always by the red and white banner of the ATUC.

At the rally in the Castlegate, speaker after speaker spoke passionately about our shared humanity with all those fleeing war, poverty and oppression.

Kate Ramsden
Opening the rally, Kate Ramsden, President of the ATUC told those gathered that, like the people of Paris, Beirut and Mali, refugees are ordinary people who had ordinary lives.

“But for an accident of geography they could be you and me,” said Kate, calling for us “to take all the humanity and compassion that we have rightly brought to bear to support all those affected by the Paris attack, and give it also to all those hundreds of thousands of victims fleeing war and oppression in the Middle East and across the world.”

Brian Carroll, speaking on behalf of the Aberdeen Trade Union Council, who organised the event, condemned the use of terror, violence and aggression against innocent civilians no matter where it takes place.
"We oppose individual as well as state sponsored acts of terrorism," said Brian.
Brian Carroll
He  also slammed the rise in hate crime which has followed the terrorist atrocities in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere and pledged that the ATUC would campaign vigorously against racism and the far right “wherever these blights and scars on society occur.”

“We stand for peace, freedom,  tolerance, diversity and democracy,”  said Brian.

He condemned the government’s response to the attacks “which appear to us not to have learned the very grave lessons of the past.

“Aberdeen Trades Union Council recognises that peace and stability are not borne from silence. We need to respond to these horrors but we need to respond with inclusion, compassion and an understanding which ultimately brings those who commit acts of terror to justice... or we will perpetuate the cycle of hate and violence that these terrorists so desperately cling to.”

Christian Allard
Christian Allard, MSP and "immigrant from France" quoted from the Proclaimers.

“All through the story the immigrants came, The Gael, the Pict, the Angle and Dane, From Pakistan, England and from the Ukraine, We’re all Scotland’s story and we’re all worth the same,” a song he was thinking about when the French community in Aberdeen came together with many Scottish friends to show solidarity with the people of Paris and France after the terrible terrorist attack.

He welcomed that the first of the Syrian refugees are coming to Scotland but added, “If people tell you we are doing enough, tell them we could do much much more,” and called on pressure to be put on Westminster to take more refugees.

Calling on us all to watch our language, Christian pointed out the difference between refugees and migrants. “I am a migrant,” he said, “I am not a refugee. Don’t say migrant when you are talking about people fleeing war and oppression and seeking refuge.”

Then he asked us to simply smile. “Smile at people as you walk along the road. Scotland has become a mongrel nation and welcomes people from many shores. The best way to welcome people is to smile at them as we would greet a guest in our own home.”

The gathering then held a minute’s silence for all the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Mali and for all those killed as a result of war and terrorism across the world.

Youssef Aziz
Our next speaker, Youssef Aziz, himself a Syrian refugee, spoke of his own situation, saying that he was one of the lucky ones, coming here to study in London then RGU. He spoke passionately about the importance of welcoming refugees from Syria and across the world.

Youssef said, “My messages to you are firstly, refugees are normal humans like any of you. Secondly, they only want to set up a secure home for themselves, to start again after their homes in their own countries have been destroyed by war.

“And lastly, they are not terrorists. They are fleeing terrorism. They want to study, work and make friends.”

Aberdeen City Councillor Barney Crockett told the rally that Aberdeen was proud to welcome refugees and would be doing all it can to make them feel at home. He pointed to Aberdeen’s proud tradition of welcoming immigrants and said that as a result Aberdeen is a vibrant, multi-cultural city.
Aberdeenshire too has pledged to welcome refugees and it is good to see the North East of Scotland at the forefront of this initiative.

Amanda Murray
Amanda Murray from the Aberdeen Anti Fascist Alliance brought home how real the threat of fascism is even here in the North East, reminding us that a month ago the Chair of the National Front was elected on to Garthdee Community Council.

She slammed the anti-refugee rhetoric that the NF amongst others peddle. “We must dismantle the apparatus of intolerance that makes these attacks possible,” she said.

“Let’s realise its all connected as part of a larger struggle and that we need everyone on board,”  adding a call to action for us to ensure that right wing extremists win no votes in the forthcoming Scottish elections.

Karolin Hijazi of Aberdeen’s Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign asked those gathered to reflect on what it means to be a refugee and reminded us that many Palestinians are also living as refugees often in squalid conditions and denied basic rights. “They are prevented from returning to their homeland at the same time as Israel welcomes any Jewish person from around the world and grants them full citizenship rights,” slammed Karolin.

Karolin Hijazi
“Palestinian civic society has called on the international community to join a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel with three main demands, all dictated by international law  – equality for Palestinians living inside Israel; and end to the Israeli occupation and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”

“It is outrageous to see millions more people have to flee their homes in the 21st century, from Syria, Afghanistan and across Africa. It’s all of our responsibility to hold our government to account and to demand that colonial wars are not carried out in our names and that millions more people do not face the same fate.”

   Colleagues from Dundee Trades Union Council travelled to join the
Hamish Drummond
Aberdeen march and rally and Hamish Drummond spoke to the rally, echoing Karolin’s points. He told us that this country had a moral duty to support and to welcome refugees because of our role in creating the conditions in the Middle East that have necessitated so many having to flee their homes and communities.

Hamish said, “We must challenge terror and stand together against it wherever we see it and whoever creates it.”

The final speaker, Lewis Macdonald, MSP said that today’s march and rally “marks this city’s rejection of racism and fascism."

Lewis Macdonald
He thanked previous speakers for their passionate speeches which reflected the common humanity that we all have with all those fleeing war and oppression.

“The Castlegate has always been an appropriate place to hold the St Andrew’s Day Rally against racism and fascism because it was from here that men and women from this area went off to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War,” said Lewis, reminding us of the need to continue that fight now against racism and fascism in the North East.

 The Rally ended with two poems from Tommy Campbell of Unite the union.

Following on from Christian Allard's call to smile at everyone, he read out a poem by Samuel Beckett


When a bit of sunshine hits you
After the passing of a cloud,
And a bit of laughter gets you
And your spine is feeling proud,
Don’t forget to up and fling it
At a soul that’s feeling blue,
For the moment that you sling it
It’s a boomerang to you.

Tommy followed this up with a moving poem by the late Hilda Meers
An extract from “ For the hearing of the tale, For the future of the wish –
Resistance in Nazi Concentration Camps"
At the cut edge of a chain of circumstance
In a prison yard, here a man risks death-by-beating
To pick a daisy for his cell mate, who can’t walk.
In the gruesome dark of the camps, sparks flare.
Shared bread, light from hope that glimmers on, undimmed
There’s one who unsuspected sprinkles petrol over the roof
At his comrades’ signal, a new bright flame
Consumes the Nazi crematorium as prisoners rebel.
The dead call us in harsh voices – Listen,
Buried tales tell of what we strove to do,
Men, children, women, to save each other
And peoples of the world… including you.
More pics from the day with thanks to Morag Lawrence and Tommy Campbell