TODAY has been branded "historic" for Oxford as almost 2,000 people took to the city’s streets to show support for Syrian refugees trying to make their way to the UK.

Co-organiser of this afternoon's Catte Street rally Mark Lynas said he believed this was the first refugee welcome event to be held in the UK.

Mr Lynas said to the crowds of cheering supporters: “This is the most spectacular thing I have ever seen in Oxford’s history. I’m so proud to call this city my home.”

Crowds of people gathered outside the Bodleian at 3pm; many bearing placards, banners and signs showing support.

The event was organised after the body of three year old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee, was found washed up on a beach in Turkey after his family tried to escape their war-torn country. His mother and brother were also killed.

Director of Oxford-based charity Asylum Welcome Kate Smart said she was not surprised that the first event of its kind in the UK was being held in such a “forward thinking and free thinking city”. 

She said straight to the government: “We are saying please be brave. We have the people of Oxford behind you. We have organisations like Asylum Welcome behind you. We can help.”

Oxford City Council leader Bob Price also stood up in front of thousands to give his views.
He said: “Seeing this is remarkably illustrative of the compassion in Oxford.  Yvette Cooper [labour leadership contender] asked us if we would be willing to take on refugee families and we responded immediately to say yes we would.”

Cllr Price’s comments were met with a burst of applause and cheering from the crowd.

MEP for South East England Catherine Bearder also stood up to speak and said: “This crisis has not just happened. It has been happening for months and months.

“We need to accept we are no longer an island that can shut ourselves off from the rest of the world and stick our fingers in our ears.

 “We have got to work with other countries on this.”

Young and old turned out to the rally, including three-year-old Joshua Elphinstone-Hoadley, who carried a placard that read: “We welcome our fellow human beings.”

His mother Sara said: “We’re here because we don’t feel we can stand by doing nothing. Our government doesn’t want to help but we do. We need to work together.”

Organisers, who first set up the rally through creating an event on Facebook, will now be setting up a Facebook group, which people can join and receive updates through. 

Among guest speakers is author Mark Haddon, who said: “Everyone I talk to is saying the same thing: ‘I’m ashamed to be British’.

“This shouldn’t even be a matter for debate. Human beings are being murdered and tortured and driven from their homes in hundreds of thousands.

“Slamming the door and hoping Germany will look after them is beyond shameful.”

Sally Copley, Oxfam’s head of global policy and campaigns, said: “This event is the latest message from people in Oxford and the rest of the UK that we want to help those who have been forced to flee their homes in Syria and elsewhere.

“The Government has rightly responded to that concern but people gathering outside the Sheldonian this Sunday will be asking them to make clear that Britain is prepared to take at least its fair share of people in desperate need.”