They came in their hundreds to welcome the refugees residing at Napier Barracks at Shorncliffe. They also came in their dozens to protest at the refugees residing therein.
But the most prominent presence was that of the hundreds of police despatched from as far away as Hampshire and Wiltshire to ensure that the ‘Welcome’ rally went off peacefully. There had been some controversy surrounding the accommodation of up to 400 refugees seeking asylum for the next twelve months, while applications are made and cases heard – not least that there was the minimum of communication from the Government with the District Council or even our MP Damian Collins.
The event last Saturday organised by Kent Refugee Action Network, was supported by a host of other organisations including Student Action for Refugees, Churches Together Folkestone, Samphire, AVID Detention and Folkestone & Hythe Labour Party.
The atmosphere among the welcomers was certainly warm and friendly, although the refugees at Napier Barracks had expressed mixed feelings about such a public show of bonhomie, as many felt that it would only serve to bring even more attention to the site.
It was easy to tell those who may have had affiliations with the likes of the English Defence League although they were vastly outnumbered by the welcome committee. A trio of protesters against the rally flew a drone over the assembled crowd to film the proceedings and the Barracks residents, although they were at a loss to tell The Looker what they might use the resulting footage for.
Some of the refugees appeared near the fence to respond to the welcome committee to the appreciative cheers from the crowd.
There was some irony that a couple of dozen rally protesters had gathered in the car-park at the Shorncliffe Cemetery dressed in ‘Homes for Heroes’, presumably ignorant of the resting place of many nationalities just yards away, who gave their lives in many conflicts for this country in defence of our freedom. There were later reports that more protesters had been stopped by police at Folkestone West Station which reflected the need to swell their numbers from further afield, while the turnout from the welcomers was very much a local effort.
Bridget Chapman of KRAN co-ordinated the event megaphonically, to the accompaniment of some well chosen music provided by enthusiastic supporters, including ‘We Are Family’ and ‘Five-Hundred Miles’, although it wasn’t clear how familiar the refugees were with these particular tunes…
There will no doubt be questions asked about the necessity for such a high level of police presence, especially as organisers had been warned of the threats from the anti-welcome contingent. And, although the crowd was mostly wearing masks, social distancing among the plenty-more-than-30 gatherers was not in evidence. The police were impeccably polite and clearly taken their ‘dealing with the public’ courses, and their presence ensured that the event passed off peacefully, although the controversy surrounding the housing of refugees at Napier Barracks will surely continue to rumble on.