SWINDON PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY MAKE NEWS WITH POWERFUL ACTION FOR REFUGEES
On 3rd of November we read that over two hundred people had drowned over night in the Mediterranean. These were refugees fleeing wars and persecution to reach safety.
Sadly, these latest drowning victims brought the total to 4,220 in 2016 so far, making 2016 the deadliest year on record.
We wanted to remember these poor souls and encourage people in our community to register the sheer numbers of our fellow human beings who have died in this horrific way and continue to do so. After some discussion about candles in boats and other ideas, we settled on the Empty Shoe Memorial. The shoes act as a reminder that each one of these people was someones Mum, Dad, brother or sister, husband, wife friend or lover. A person who perhaps worked as a nurse, doctor, teacher, shop assistant. Each one with a place in their family and community. Each one loved by somebody and mourned by somebody. They were hoping for a place of safety and shelter where they could persue their hopes and dreams without fear. Instead they lost everything.
There was a great response from many different groups and people in Swindon. Thousands of pairs of shoes were collected and stored in schools, churches, places of work and people's homes. On the day a team of people worked from 9.30am (when the first loading of shoes began) until 5.30pm (when the last shoes were unloaded for recycling) During the day, people could be seen coming towards us across the park with children holding one hand and bags of shoes in the other. Young and old, people we knew and new friends all joined in. Throughout the day I saw many people quietly looking at the shoes and thinking. I wondered if they thought "Oh my brother has a pair like that or my friend or my Mum"? The sheer numbers were humbling and poignant. Many people said it was very moving, more than they had imagined it would be. I think the children's shoes particularly made people think. 600 of the drowned in this shocking total were children.
Afterwards, the shoes were sent to various charities catering for refugees and homeless people in our community
Some went to charities to sell, such as the Samaritans and others which were unfit to be sold, went to Blaylocks and Clarks for recycling benefitting our Health Hydro and UNICEF respectively. Not one single pair of shoes was wasted.
We gave out leaflets on the day, giving some facts about refugees. Also, asking people to email their MP's (with contact details) to ask for action. The Red Cross have said that deaths like this will continue unless the European politicians get together and create a legal and safe passage for refugees. We had two slots on local BBC radio before the event, sharing the number of drownings. We made the local BBC TV news and our local paper twice before and once after the event (they publicy backed our event and set up a collection point in their office) Loads of pictures shared on social media as well.
We hope we made a difference in changing people's attitudes and raising awareness of these important issuers.
Kate Linnegar Swindon People's Assembly.