London, England – Thousands of people braved freezing temperatures in London to unite against the “evil of racism” and the growth of far-right movements.
Protesters gathered near Oxford Circus on Saturday for the Stand Up To Racism march to oppose growing racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
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Crowds marched to Whitehall as they held banners, reading “Migrants and refugees are welcome here” and “Stop racist attacks”.
“There is racism in the UK, it is just more hidden because it’s so diverse and acts on a more subliminal level,” Abraham Khoudari said at the march.
“But when it’s like that it is even worse,” the 18-year-old Syrian told Al Jazeera.
“Nationalists have come to the forefront, they are in parliament and in power. It means more people are becoming more confident about expressing their racist views. The result of that is hate crimes increasing so much. It’s just terrible and we are sick of it.”
Far right poses ‘significant threat’
The march comes less than a month after Mark Rowley, who recently retired as the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism chief, warned that the far right poses an “organised and significant” threat to the country, as he revealed that four far-right “terrorist” plots had been foiled since the beginning of the year.
When asked if the government is doing enough to tackle the rise of far-right violence, Khoudari responded at the time: “No because a lot of far-right politicians are now in government. They won’t clamp down because capitalism and the far-right go hand in hand.”
Labour MEP and Chair of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Claude Moraes told Al Jazeera there is “significant threat” from the far right in the UK.
Moraes said it stems from a “very strong populist wave based on anti-Muslim, anti-refugee rhetoric and an increasingly anti-Semitic one”, coupled with “hardcore trends of the far right”.
Saturday’s protest is expected to spread across both the UK and the EU, and coincide with the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination.
Surge in hate crimes
According to a UN report, “divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric” during the EU referendum campaign triggered a surge in hate crimes following Britain’s June 2016 vote to quit the bloc.
The year between 2016 and 2017 saw the largest percentage increase in hate crimes since the 2011 to 2012 period, with the number of reported offences rising to 80,393. The majority of those offences – 78 percent – were racially motivated, according to a October 2017 government report.
Labour MP David Lammy hit out at politicians perpetuating inflammatory rhetoric, singling out those with a questionable record on promoting equality rights.
“To Rees-Mogg, to Nigel Farage, to Britain First, to the xenophobes, to the racists, to those who would be seduced by this extreme rhetoric … We are standing up for the Britain that we love and that we believe in, and my God, we are sending a message to the [architect] of this tide of prejudice that is sweeping our world: Donald Trump,” he told the crowd on Saturday.
Fardowsa Hadir said she felt the Muslim community was especially targeted in the UK.
“They don’t acknowledge us, or that we are part of society,” the 53-year-old told Al Jazeera.
She added there is a “big” problem with Islamophobia “because everything that happens … they always blame Islam, and it’s not fair”.
People also gathered to protest against what they branded the UK government’s “inhumane” treatment of refugees.
Lammy said people should stand up to Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge – which she first made as home secretary in 2012 – to create a “hostile environment” for undocumented immigrants.
According to Refugee Council, in 2017, an estimated 668,600 people sought safety in Europe. Yet Britain received just 26,350 asylum applications, a 14 percent decrease from the year before.
Theo Sharieff blamed the Conservative party’s austerity policies for growing racism in the country.
He told Al Jazeera that “immigrants held in detention are paid one pound [$1.40] an hour, are not allowed to look for jobs outside detention centres and have no right to join trade unions.”
The 22-year-old added that as the country “cuts jobs, services and wages …, all that does is put one worker against another.”
Sophie Hargrove said she was marching because “leaders in the country across the world stand for things we don’t believe in”.
She added that “it’s important to come together to oppose these things we are against”.
Asked about the Conservative party’s attitude towards migrants and refugees, Hargrove branded it “incredibly inhumane”.
“Especially now with refugee crisis, it’s important to include refugees in this anti-racism because they are often forgotten and dehumanised,” she told Al Jazeera.