Activists wearing pink veils marked Remembrance Sunday by laying lifeboat-orange wreaths at the Cenotaph to remember refugees who died fleeing conflict and persecution.
Around 40 people marched from the Ministry of Defence to the memorial for war dead on Saturday, carrying candles and placards.
The vigil, which has happened annually since 2016, was organised by a coalition of campaign groups including Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSM) and Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP).
Attendees holding the names of some of the 5,000 people who died trying to reach the UK last year alone held a minute’s silence for refugees, just as it started to rain.
Sebastian Aguirre of LGSM told Novara Media the event was to commemorate the 16 or 17 people who die everyday trying to reach safety in western Europe, including more than 33,000 people who have drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea since the year 2000.
“I think the ‘why’ should be clear to anybody,” he said. “Refugees are forgotten about so often because of systems the government has in place to make people who need to be protected, and deserve to be protected, invisible. We need to begin to hold governments accountable for the number of people who have a human right to seek refuge who die just trying to do that.”
Cristel Amiss of BWRAP said the march had come about because “there’s very little that recognises the immense struggle that people make to get protection, to get to safety.”
“We have to be respectful and mindful of the fact people have died trying to exercise a human right and today is a day we can remember that,” she said.
She added: “We want a society that welcomes refugees, that acknowledges that everybody is entitled to a right to a house, a right to live safely, a right to work, and a right to claim back benefits and to have what they need to survive. And that is a very small amount compared to the amount spent by the military industrial complex on waging wars and making profit out of the misery of humanity.”
Geraldine Takundwa of the All African Women’s Group said that many people who die trying to reach the UK are forced to risk their lives because the British Government continually fails to honour the right of families to be together.
She told Novara Media: “The reason people are trying to cross the Mediterranean is that when we are here and we win our asylum cases and we are refugees, we are unable to get our families to join us.
“When we make applications for our family to join us they are always denied. Every application that women in our group have made and people we know have made, they all have been denied.
“Therefore our families have no choice but to try and come to the UK by crossing the Mediterranean.”
She added that she blames the prime minister, who has presided over asylum and family reunification cases since she was home secretary.
“Theresa May has said over and over again, we are going to make family reunification possible,” Takundwa said. “They have never made it possible. They have made it harder and harder.”