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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Migrants find a voice in the rain
By Joe Boyle
BBC News

On a rainy day in central London, an array of unlikely bedfellows gathered to call for more rights for illegal migrants.

Trafalgar Square rally
Hundreds joined the rally, from many countries and backgrounds

In Trafalgar Square, the mecca for visitors idling away a day in the capital, umbrellas vied for space with flags from all over the world - not least the Union flags, clutched by demonstrators and tourists alike.

Whistles, horns, drums and a muffled PA system reverberated the familiar sounds of protest around the 19th Century statues and fountains of the rain-soaked square.

Banners proclaiming "no-one is illegal" were brandished by many of the hundreds who congregated to urge an amnesty for "irregular" migrants - refused asylum seekers or visa overstayers - living in the UK for more than four years.

The rally followed a service at the Catholic Westminster Cathedral.

Religious activists were joined by a potpourri of other groups, including anti-capitalists, trade unions, socialists, community and immigration organisations.

There was even a contingent of Ecuadorian children dressed in their national costumes.

'Inhumane system'

Corinne Lotz, who was at the rally campaigning for anti-capitalist group World to Win, admitted she seldom joined forces with the Catholic Church.

Anti-capitalist protesters
Corinne Lotz (L) welcomed the Church's involvement

She had not taken part in the service preceding the rally, but believed Catholic involvement was a positive move.

"It is interesting that the Church is taking up the cause. It is a very good sign, because it shows that we are joined together by the issue," she said.

For Ms Lotz, the issue is what she described as the UK's "inhumane system" of sending asylum seekers back to their countries of origin to be tortured and killed.

Others in the crowd were campaigning because they felt legalising the status of many immigrants would help to make Britain a better place to live.

'Spiritual richness'

Sophia Buchuck, originally from Cuzco in Peru, has been in England for 15 years.

Latin American contingent
Sophia Buchuck was part of the lively Latin American contingent

She said her own experience of waiting for 11 years to gain residency had encouraged her to attend the rally, where she was part of the vocal and colourful Latin American contingent.

"In the time I have been here, I have seen the Latin American community grow and develop," she said.

"They take part in things like the Notting Hill Carnival, they have a positive influence, they add to the spiritual richness of the place.

"But at the moment, too many of them are sad. They come here legally to study or work, but when they apply to stay, it takes ages."

Crime fears

The 35-year-old singer, who lives in Lambeth, south London, said she did not believe all illegal immigrants should be given an amnesty immediately.

"Everyone has different needs. People who are claiming asylum should be given priority," she said.

Some in the crowd expressed fears that designating people illegal could cause a rise in crime.

Bervelyn, who had travelled from Hertfordshire to attend the rally, said prolonging their illegal status stopped migrants from working and helping the country to be prosperous.

"If people can be made legal, they can contribute to the country, and there will be unity in the country," she said.

"They can go and work and take care of themselves, rather than going out to rob and steal."

The ad hoc grouping of religious, community and left-wing groups, under the umbrella of the Strangers into Citizens campaign, created a festival atmosphere in London's drenched streets.

It remains to be seen whether the country's lawmakers, who gather less than half a mile away, were listening.




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