On Monday evening, University of Birmingham students gathered at Mermaid Square to show their support and respect for the victims of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.
The vigil was organised by the Francophile society after Friday night’s brutal and shocking attacks on the French capital, which resulted in a reported 129 dead and 352 injured. The tragedy quickly received a strong response on social media sites, with many expressing messages of sadness, remorse and often anger.
Students congregated to share a moment of silence once candles had been lit and prayers were written for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks.
With a large French community at UoB, the news deeply affected and saddened many students. Lea Yammine, an exchange student from Paris, felt particularly shocked by the attacks, especially those in Beirut and Paris, both cities with which she has a personal connection. ‘I am French Lebanese, so since this gathering is for both Beirut and France, I felt doubly concerned…I wanted to show my support to both of my countries and even to the rest of the world.’
Yammine expressed her appreciation for the support she has seen on social media. She reported to Redbrick, ‘everyone has shown real support.’
Albert Dognin, Vice-President of the Francophile society, told Redbrick, ‘I think it is really heart-warming to see the huge number of people supporting France and the French people in the wake of the terrorist attack.’
Dognin continued to speak about the impact the attacks have had on French students at the University, ‘Most of the French [students] feel concerned by the tragic events, and want to show their support for their fellow citizens living in France. You always feel more concerned when such an event happens a train ride away from you.’ He added, ‘Here on campus we all feel concerned, UoB is a truly international and multicultural University.’
While it was the simultaneous attacks in Paris which drew the most attention online, the organisers of the vigil placed equal emphasis on paying respect to the casualties of attacks further from home, such as last week’s bombings in Baghdad and Beirut.
Dognin stated, ‘Even if western media didn’t relay the information as much as for the Paris attack, these cities have been targeted by ISIS the day before or the same day as the Paris attack occurred. The people were killed by the same hand, in a very short period of time, and it is our duty, as students, citizens of the world to remember that this doesn’t only happen on our soil, but that it happens even more often in middle-east countries.’
Students who attended the vigil appeared to share this same belief. Second year student, Rosie Luker, believes, ‘we need to realise that terrorism happens all over the world, and that we shouldn’t stand for it wherever it happens, not just in France or England or America, but everywhere.’
President of the Francophile society, Louis Serrand, echoed this same sentiment. During the speech Serrand gave at the vigil, he emphasised, ‘we need to keep in mind what happens every day in other countries…what happened in Paris must remind us that it doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter if you’re living in Syria, in Australia, in America…what matters are your values.’
The President of Francophile society concluded his speech by saying, ‘we, as students, are the population who can make things change.’
After the vigil, donations were collected for Croix-Rouge Françoise (the French Red Cross) and Oxfam, two charities which are working to help the victims of the attacks in Paris and those affected by the refugee crisis.