2023 will be remembered by many as a year where immigration and asylum dominated the conversation. The Government’s “stop the boats” campaign, the demonising of sanctuary seekers through the Illegal Migration Act, the use of the Bibby Stockholm and RAF bases as asylum accommodation and the threat of the Rwanda scheme all underpinned a backdrop of consistent far-right anti-migrant activism. The far right has been emboldened and galvanised by this rightward shift in the Conservative party, and have also tried to capitalise on people’s real economic and social fears around the cost of living crisis to spread their hateful message.
And while this has been a difficult year, there are many who have pushed hard against the politics of hate. Many worked tirelessly for their communities, offering a beacon of hope amongst the pernicious spread of hatred and misinformation. Beyond defending the dignity of people seeking sanctuary, people also worked hard to champion migration more broadly, as well as LGBTQ+ rights, religious freedom of expression and climate justice across the UK. All of these have sadly been targeted by the far right over the last year.
Here are some stories of those who have been working to build HOPE in their communities this year:
SHARe Knowsley, a charity supporting people seeking asylum and refugees, was inundated with supportive messages after anti-migrant activism reached boiling point in Kirkby, Merseyside in February. NHS workers stood in solidarity with them, sending cake and messages of love on Valentine’s day. They later held a silent vigil to “send out healing love to all the communities in Knowsley”.
In March, a group of locals from Llantwit Major in the Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales, decided to organise 24 hours of activities, most notably a Welsh Cake welcome where local people shared food, tea and coffee to demonstrate their welcoming, accepting community. It was in response to Patriotic Alternative, Britain’s biggest fascist group, coming into the town to protest and leaflet. PA tried to weaponise the issue of a local building being used to house Ukrainian asylum seekers but they were driven away by the Welsh cake-bearing protesters and didn’t return to Llantwit Major again.
Continued anti-trans protests were held in early 2023 outside the Honor Oak Pub in Lewisham, London, claiming that the popular children’s reading event “Drag Queen Story Hour” was not appropriate to be held in the venue. In April, anti-LGBTQ+ protesters were vastly outnumbered by counter-protesters: some reports even say that for every protester there were seven people there to defend trans rights.
In Kegworth in the East Midlands, a group of compassionate locals responded to the use of a hotel as temporary accommodation by forming an “Open Arms Kegworth” group for people to help the people staying in the hotel by volunteering with them, teaching English and holding cultural events together. In May, the group went for a litter pick in the local area alongside asylum seekers from the hotel, and two weeks later they held a solidarity picnic together.
In July, a local HOPE not hate group in Llanelli, South Wales organised a picnic to show solidarity with people seeking asylum after concerns about the use of a local hotel veered away from local job losses and into anti-migrant stereotypes. People attending the Llanelli Pride event were also encouraged to attend by a leaflet emphasising the similarities between the struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights and the rights of people seeking sanctuary.
After the war memorial in Morecambe, Lancashire was vandalised with Nazi graffiti in August, people gathered in protest to defend the memory of those who fought in the war and to show that hatred and division were not welcome. Further events were planned in the community to build spirit.
Also in August, the now former immigration minister Robert Jenrick became somewhat of a villain after ordering child-friendly cartoons to be painted over in the Manston detention centre for people seeking asylum in Kent. A petition to restore the murals to their original condition quickly gained over 120,000 signatures, demonstrating the public appetite for humanity. The campaign Cartoons Not Cruelty was set up to send around 10,000 colourful postcards to refugee children.
The use of the Bibby Stockholm Barge docked in Portland Island off the South Coast of England attracted a lot of negative attention, with the poor conditions and disease on board a focus. The Portland Global Friendship Group has consistently worked to support the people seeking asylum on board, hosting a “Let Music Unite” music festival on Chesil Beach in September, with music from local and refugee acts.
Just before the plans to use the Stradey Park Hotel in Llanelli as asylum accommodation were scrapped, local organisations, campaigners and trade unions came together for a “Llanelli Unites” family fun day in October, which was attended widely across the community and brought some much needed fun and laughter to a town sadly divided by anti-migrant protests.
Elsewhere, City of Sanctuary were unfairly targeted and harassed by far-right actors following an article from GB News attacking their Schools of Sanctuary programme, which accredits schools who are committed to creating a culture of welcome. Instead of being silenced by this experience, City of Sanctuary raised money to continue their work.
Following community tensions in Wigan in the North West of England, HOPE not hate worked with the local council in November to train councillors and local authority officers on having difficult conversations with constituents about migration whilst taking into account other confounding concerns they might have, such as worries about the cost of living crisis. We also strengthened our wider links in the North West region, holding an event for local authorities and the third sector in Manchester where we produced a collaborative Action Plan which outlines steps to be taken if far-right activity were to flare up locally.
Overall, there were considerable challenges posed by the right in 2023 but the resilience shown by those unwilling to let the far right win was greater. A special mention has to be made for the countless people across the country who do this work voluntarily, despite it being risky, tiring and at times thankless.
We have a range of resources which will help you:
• Identify far-right groups and messaging
• Find the right audiences and messages for your cause
• Plan inclusive, effective events that bring the community together
• Get your story in the local media
• Keep safe whilst you are doing great work!
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