The crowd heard speeches and joined in a minute’s silence for those who lost their lives, before chants of “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” rang out.
One speaker said the tragedy was a “direct result of the hostile environment”, while protesters held banners saying “borders kills” and “refugees welcome”.
Groups including Black Lives Matter UK and Sisters Uncut organised the protest outside the department’s Marsham Street building in central London at 6:30pm on Thursday to demand an end to Channel deaths and protest against the “incessantly barbaric border regime”.
Three children and a pregnant woman were among the 27 who died after their boat sank near Calais on Wednesday afternoon. Three people were rescued, according to French authorities.
Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have agreed to do “everything possible to stop the gangs responsible”, but campaigners are pointing the finger at the UK’s immigration policies.
Sisters Uncut said: “A threat to one of us is a threat to all of us. No more violent policing of borders, no more detention centres, no more channel deaths, no more deaths at the hands of the state.”
A briefing paper by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “This unthinkable tragedy was predictable, and predicted. It was also entirely avoidable. We must see a change of approach from Government in the wake of this disaster.”
The JCWI called for the Borders Bill to be changed to remove clauses which grant lesser rights to refugees who arrive spontaneously, and which allow for offshore detention of asylum seekers. It also recommended that the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme be immediately opened.
“As long as our borders are closed to refugees, there will be people willing to take enormous risks to get here. The smugglers will be the only ones to benefit,” Zoe Gardner, the report’s author, wrote.
Record numbers of people are making the perilous crossing – with many continuing to do so in terrible weather conditions.
More than 23,000 people have travelled across the Channel to the UK by boat so far this year, almost triple the 8,400 in 2020, though still far lower than many European countries.
The Home Office last week said the number of refugees who had to be rescued hit 1,131 on a single day – the second highest figure since 2019.
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