Local MSPs and activists took to the streets to call for a greater government response following the events in Afghanistan
A Buchanan Street protest was one of many held around the country by the anti-war movement, following the Taliban takeover of Kabul earlier in the week. All took place on Wednesday 18 August, as the UK Parliament was recalled, and made their demands for more refugees be taken in.
The protest in Glasgow took place on the steps of Buchanan Galleries and was organised by the Afghan Human Rights Foundation in partnership with Glasgow Stop the War Coalition. Speeches were given from a host of activists, politicians and representatives including the General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Council Dave Moxham, Labour MSPs Pauline McNeill and Paul Sweeney, alongside the Director of Positive Action in Housing Robina Qureshi, and anti-war activist Johnathon Shafi.
Organisers promoted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s statement committing Scotland to welcome Afghan refugees, and urged politicians in Westminster to do the same. Attendees were encouraged to write to their local MPs or MSPs, in solidarity. Signs were distributed amongst the crowd and speeches merged into chanting: "Say it loud and say it clear, refugees are welcome here."
The call to welcome refugees was central to the speech content of all speakers present. They urged politicians in Westminster to not cap the number of Afghan refugees able to enter, and resettle in, the UK. It followed Priti Patel’s announcement that only 5,000 refugees would be resettled this year, out of a total of 20,000 over the coming years. Labour MSP Pauline McNeill stated: "You do not have to be a refugee: we have a responsibility to all Afghan people."
Speakers called for the government to accept all refugees, as opposed to only those officially classed as "vulnerable" - as with the Syrian refugee crisis - and to act with the urgency the situation demands. Director of Positive Action in Housing, Robina Quresh, condemned the current approach as punitive and counterproductive, asserting: "Refugees are not a burden: they are a gift."
Strong feelings of betrayal and abandonment were expressed within speeches. Mohammad Asif, a representative from the Afghan Human Rights Foundation, stated: "This was not a failure of intelligence, this was intentionally done. Today the population of Afghanistan were thrown into the sea."
Labour MSP Paul Sweeney, a former army reservist, spoke candidly about his relationship with the conflict, saying he "felt numb watching the scenes from Afghanistan. One of my best friends was killed in 2013, blown apart by an IED in Helmand and we have to question: what was it for?"
As the protest drew to a close, The Glasgow Guardian spoke to Angela McCormick from Glasgow Stop the War Coalition. She urged students to make their voices heard: "Students have been the heart and soul of the anti-war movement for the last 20 years, and the student community is even more diverse now, so let us hope this energy continues over the coming weeks."
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