Kent Refugee Action Group, with a number of other local organisations and churches organised a Welcome event for the asylum seekers accommodated at Napier Barracks, 100’s attended.
There was a gradual build up of event organisers and attendees, with just a handful of people at 10am standing outside Napier Barracks, chanting ‘we love you’, but gradually building to more than 250 attendees by the event start at 11am. A raggle taggle group of local dog walkers wandered across the playing field to watch too.
This event which had drawn considerable interest from both the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ refugee groups was potentially a powder keg waiting to explode on the Sandgate/Cheriton border. However, the police were organised and very visible – with more than a dozen police vans parked in roads around Napier Barracks and with police men and women, walking freely amongst the crowd, or standing a little distance off – watching as people arrived or left.
As people waited for the 11 am start the organiser spoke on microphone to tell refugees who may have been listening (but could not be seen) that there would be a photo opportunity and if they wanted to display reciprocal signs or be included in the photo they would be welcome too. Whilst the crowd gathered and waved their welcome signs they listened and bobbed along to various tracks played through the loudspeakers; ‘You’ve got a friend in me’ or ‘Ghostbusters’.
The crowd was made up of men and women – young and older, with families and small children present too – mostly all wearing masks whilst they stood loosely together. At that point, there was little sign of ‘anti’ or far-right groups that were expected to attend, and this may have been because of a tactical plan put in place by the local authority working with Kent Police, and others such as the Intelligence & Roads Policing and British Railway Police. As cars drove past the Barracks they slowed down and sounded their horns ibn support – bringing more cheers from the gathered crowd.
At 11am the event organiser gave a short welcome speech, telling the mostly still unseen refugees, that they were welcome to Folkestone – there was lots of banner-waving and signs stating ‘we see you, we greet you, we welcome you’, or ‘black lives matter’ or ‘migration is beautiful’ amongst others. Each time a refugee face appeared at a window or in the courtyard where some migrants gathered, more cheers sounded, prompting more sign-waving and chants of ‘we love you’.
As the event came to a peaceful close – with the crowd still chanting ‘we love you’ over and over – it was possible to make out the sound of the refugees cheering too.
edit 22/10. I left the event as the crowd started to disperse, and it looked as if the police were using their cars to shut the road. I was later told that there was a small ‘anti’ group, perhaps 10 – 20 protesters who had been kept apart from the main group, and as the Welcome group dispersed the small ‘anti’ group did appear so that they could stage their peaceful protest.