Campaigners in Manchester holding event to spotlight experiences of refugees and asylum seekers
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Campaigners and groups supporting asylum seekers and refugees are coming together in Manchester for a day in which people trying to build a new life in the UK will talk about their experiences.
The community day of action against the hostile environment is taking place in the city centre on Saturday 18 June.
The main aim of the afternoon is to give people seeking asylum and the right to remain in the UK the chance to speak about their experiences and how Government policies on the issue affect them.
Protests have been held across the UK, including in Manchester, against controversial policies like the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and the Nationality and Borders Bill which has now come into law.
What is the event taking place in Manchester?
The latest Manchester event against the hostile environment and the Government’s attitude towards refugees takes place on Saturday 18 June.
It is being held at the Methodist Church Central Buildings on Oldham Street in the Northern Quarter between noon and 5pm.
A number of organisations supporting refugees and asylum seekers are involved, including the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), These Walls Must Fall, No Borders Manchester, Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) and Safety4Sisters.
Organisers say that as well as allowing people to speak in-depth about what they are experiencing after fleeing war or persecution the event is also something of a public hearing which will give those attending the chance to pass judgement on what they think of current Home Office policies.
The event will also look at the system of reporting to the authorities which can be a requirement of the asylum system and what the passing of the Nationality and Borders Bill means for those objecting to ministers’ approach to handling issues involving refugees.
There will also be food and music performances during the afternoon.
The event is part of a whole week of action, Solidarity Knows No Borders, which is happening across the country between 13 and 19 June.
What has been said about the event?
Rivka Shaw from the GMIAU said: “People in Manchester are experiencing the hostile environment every day.
“We see people who have been waiting for their claims for a number of years and are still in inappropriate accommodation, people who have no recourse to public funds and are really struggling, people facing being charged for health care.
“Most of the people who will be speaking are experts by experience of the immigration system. We want to listen and discuss and hear people’s experiences.
“We are also holding a public hearing with people’s testimonies to hold the Government to account.
“It’s a powerful way for people who often feel at the mercy of the Home Office and its decision making to stand up and say they are making this judgement back on them.”
Maggy Moyo from These Walls Must Fall said: “When we stage protests we don’t have time for people with lived experiences to really share their challenges.
“This is an all-day event and people will speak out about what they are going through.
“The UK Government always talks about refugees and asylum seekers like the situation is uncontrollable, and then they put the blame on people who are seeking asylum, on those who are weak, voiceless and defenceless.
“We have seen with Ukraine that the people and communities of Manchester are welcoming, offering refugees accommodation and clothes, giving us food at foodbanks. They are not complaining, they don’t have a problem with refugees at all.
“It’s easy for people who don’t have knowledge of how the asylum system works to believe what they are told by the Government, because we don’t have these platforms to share our stories and our struggles. That’s what we’re going to do at this sit-down event.
“We are just asking for more solidarity. Looking at Rwanda, this is a country that has had genocide. There is also no African country that accepts the LGBTQ+ community. How are these people being sent to Rwanda by the Government going to be kept safe and protected?
“We are in touch with refugees living in a camp in Kenya and with refugees from Congo, which has been in conflict with Rwanda.
“We are talking about people already broken down, traumatised by their experiences of their journeys to the UK. This Nationality and Borders Act will be especially affect women and children because women will have to tell their stories at the first interview, when we have found it can take a year or so to get used to a place, trust people and be able to talk about sexual abuse or harrassment.
“One of our speakers has been fighting the system for 10 years. By the time some people get their right to work and stay in this country they are already messed up, their mind is imprisoned.”
What has the Government said?
The Government’s controversial Rwanda policy came before the courts this week with an 11th hour intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) preventing a plane taking off after an attempt to secure an injunction against the flight in the Court of Appeal was unsuccessful.
However, full legal scrutiny of the scheme will still take place later this year.
The Home Office has strongly defended its Nationality and Borders Act in the face of waves of fierce opposition, claiming that it wants to break up the business models of people-smuggling gangs.
It has also said it wants to speed up the process of removing those without a right to stay in the UK in order to help those who can, while also cracking down on what it terms unacceptable ways of getting into the country.
Home secretary Priti Patel has described the asylum system as “broken”.