Journalist and campaigner Eamonn McCann has called for Londonderry to accept 5,000 refugees and for Ebrington to be turned into a temporary refugee camp to help alleviate the ongoing crisis on the borders of Europe.
“Send 5,000 refugees to Derry. We can handle it. Whatever number it takes, we can handle it,” he said.
Mr McCann made the call during a public meeting at Guildhall Square on Saturday, which was addressed by migrants, refugees and local trade unionists.
It followed a silent march from the Waterside to the city centre that had been organised by Londonderry Trades Council in solidarity with the millions of refugees fleeing war in the Middle East and North Africa.
During the rally Mr McCann addressed the Work and Pensions Secretary, exhorting: “They’re not chasing our benefits, they’re fleeing your bombs, Mr [Iain] Duncan Smith.”
He also coined a new slogan for the burgeoning humanitarian campaign to help those fleeing chaos in the Middle East: ‘No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”
Mr McCann suggested establishing an emergency camp at Ebrington.
“It’s a lovely building over in Ebrington, isn’t it? What on earth is going on there? I don’t know.
“What a glorious thing it would be to see people at their ease who have been rescued from disaster, at their ease among us.
“Not only would it be good for them but, by God, wouldn’t it be good for us?
“Wouldn’t it give us a better sense of ourselves?” said Mr McCann.
The veteran campaigner argued ordinary people around the globe are willing to take people in.
“The vast majority of people, everywhere around the world, of ordinary people, have reacted by saying...what can we do? I want to help,” he said.
He claimed there is more than enough money in rich Western societies to deal with the refugee crisis.
“The 1,000 richest people, in the United Kingdom, as they call it, the 1,000 richest people, have control of £547billion.
“You want enough money to solve the entire refugee problem? Take it off them. Take it off them. They’ve got the money. They don’t need it, They don’t deserve it.”
Referring to the harrowing image of three-year-old Ayan Kurdi, who drowned in Turkey during a desperate attempted crossing to Greece, Mr McCann said, the current crisis had awakened something in many people.
“Some of us have discovered, over the last few weeks, that there are things about ourselves that we didn’t know,” he said.
“Maybe some of us, of a particular age thought that we had become so cynical, that our hearts were too hardened ever to shudder again with grief at an image of suffering anywhere...that we’d seen it all before. Well, we haven’t seen it all before. We’re seeing it now and we’re going to see it more and more and more,” said Mr McCann.
He went on to claim that the current crisis on Europe’s borders is not a blip.
He said it would lead to huge societal change and that we are witnessing an epoch in world history.
“This is not a once off crisis like an earthquake or even a tsunami,” he said.
“This is a seismic shift in the way our world is organised and we are going to have to step up to the mark.”