Barnsley Green Party member Callum Moss on how Barnsley people proudly stand up against racism.
Barnsley has a history of helping people in need, in World War II we welcomed around 20,000 Polish refugees who were displaced by war and destruction to their homes, towns and communities. They worked with our grandfathers in the mines and the glassworks that are the pride of Barnsley, and they have integrated with our communities to this day. The community spirit of Barnsley to help people at home and beyond is one of the best attributes of our town.
So when Barnsley gained support to become a sanctuary for refugees from Syria and around the world in war torn countries, the Barnsley Green Party welcomed this. This however galvanised the anti-immigration groups around Barnsley such as the EDL, the South Yorkshire Casuals and political parties past and present such as the BNP and UKIP.
This prompted the South Yorkshire Casuals (SYC) to hold a demonstration in Barnsley, on the 12th December 2015. It also inspired a group of people to form a grassroots movement to put a positive light on asylum and immigration, happening naturally as a response to the dominance online of the anti-immigration movement.
A page was created on Facebook called ‘I’m from Barnsley and I’m not a racist’, which quickly gained support from local people, political parties, trade union groups, regional groups and the media. Local newspapers and online news sites contacted the page for information on what this movement was doing, showing their support for helping Syrian refugees both in Calais and the families that have come to Barnsley.
The movement started helping coordinate efforts against the SYC demonstration and got to work on putting a positive light on contributions from immigration and asylum seekers. We posted articles based on news from around the world, to highlight the plightful journey Syrian refugees make to find safety and nurture the humanitarian response as to why we need to help refugees.
The Green Party advocate within the movement, for immigration to be a humane process. Something that members have been learning from organisations such as South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (known as SYMAAG) and United Against Fascism (also known as UAF). We also learned about the rise in a market for asylum seekers between private firms who run detention centres, such as G4S and Serco. As they get government funding for running these detention centres and keeping asylum seekers in them for as long as possible, to maximize funding from government. With this information being shared between members, the advocation for a humane immigration process only grows stronger as members find out more information on how our asylum system works and highlights that they are seen as a tradable commodity.
Eventually after a few meetings and some planning, it all came ahead on the 12th of December when the SYC held their demonstration, so did the Antifa movement in Barnsley. It was a miserable rainy day but they managed to match the attendance of the SYC demo, and get support from Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, who had questions of his own about the motives behind the SYC.
When it came to engagement with the public, the group to pride in being peaceful and friendly to the public, while the SYC marched around the town centre chanting and swearing in public spaces where families were out Christmas shopping.
After the demonstrations the SYC suddenly died down, and more recently, the British National Party (BNP) have lost their recognition as a political party. The anti-immigration online presence is diminishing, while the Antifa movement keeps growing stronger and stronger in support.