The Manchester Community Day of Action, calling for an end to the hostile environment, platformed revelatory and inspiring voices of people with lived experience of our draconian immigration and asylum systems.
Held at the Methodist Central Hall on a radiant Saturday morning, the Day of Action heard testimony of the impact of the hostile environment with profound stories of asylum seekers’ personal experiences. The event was organised as part of a national week of action for Solidarity Knows No Borders, a collective of activists and community groups fighting for an end to the hostile environment.
The event, facilitated by Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), featured members of several local organisations including; No Borders Manchester, These Walls Must Fall, Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) and Safety4Sisters.
During the opening of the day of action, I met Rivka Shaw, a policy officer with GMIAU. She welcomed me into the space, formerly Nexus Art Cafe, now filled with rows of chairs, cold refreshments and snacks. She shared her insight into the organisation’s impactful work:
“Resisting in community and solidarity is the only way we’re going to be able to fight. We have often staged events that are more like demonstrations or protests and today we wanted it to be more of a listening discussion side event for the reason that people often don’t get the chance to feel comfortable and have the space to tell our stories”.
The event primarily focused on the experiences of female asylum seekers who often suffer discrimination in obtaining employment and face difficulties supporting their families. Opportunities for UK migrants are often highly gendered, with migrant women experiencing much lower rates of employment than men.
Safety4Sisters is an organisation that supports migrant women suffering domestic abuse, and who are prevented by their immigration or asylum status from accessing refuges and basic support. Safety4Sisters provides support for women seeking refuge and advice to maintain their right to remain. Many women are especially isolated due to having no recourse to public funds. This means they have no entitlement to the majority of welfare benefits, including income support, housing benefit and a range of allowances, like child tax credits.
Members from Safety4Sisters showcased some of their inspirational poetry and singing during part of the day and spoke about their new book, ‘This is We’, a collection of writings from their Migrant Women’s Writing Project that ran from late 2020 to Autumn 2021. As survivors from minority communities, their lives have been shaped by migration, racism and the hostile environment. One of the poems that is presented in the book is ‘YOU’ by K.I:
“You are not alone here. I was there once. I know the feeling of the unknown and the fear. You aren’t here because it’s your fault. You are here because it was necessary for you to move on. I believe in you as I believe in myself.”
During a day filled with a shared hope and encouragement, I had the honour of speaking to Tandrima, a feminist, activist and member of Safety4Sisters and WAST who shared her story:
“You don’t feel safe, you feel like you can’t be stable anywhere. You feel like you’re being watched all the time. You feel like everything is being monitored. You don’t have access to work or education. You can’t plan for anything because you don’t know whether you’d be here or somewhere else.”
Tandrima came to Manchester from India in 2018. ”I’m very lucky that I was helped by my GP and by the other people that I came into contact with in my initial year of moving to Manchester. I am now involved with lots of groups and I am an absolute unashamed activist and complete feminist,” Tandrima said. “These groups are where you can come and vent to and form a sisterhood. You form that circle of power and feel that you can do something about it.”
Despite the successful cancellation of the first flight to Rwanda, enforced by the European Court of Human Rights and the determined work of activists, the legal framework to continue deportations still exists. Meanwhile many migrants live in a quasi-penal system preventing them from rebuilding their lives and pursing their dreams.
“The key thing is for people to continue acting on and not accepting these outcomes, we’re not going to accept that this is the status quo for the refugee protection in this country now,” said Rivka. “Refugee protection in this country is being attacked and dismantled by the government and we should not accept that. We have to fight it.”
The activist organisations and campaigns participating in the Manchester Day of Action represent the revolutionary empowerment necessary to change our society. The event highlighted how migrants are fighting and organising on their own terms to press for their rights.
Tandrima explained how, due to her experiences, she had suffered from poor mental health. After receiving support from her GP and groups like Safety4Sisters, she enrolled on a Counselling and Psychotherapy course which she intends to use to help other women. “Don’t shame her, don’t blame her, listen to her and believe her,” Tandrima said. “Not everybody’s journey is the same, and not everybody’s life is the same. But help her to redraw her life and help her to build that future that she deserves.”
You can find out more about the organisations discussed here:
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU)
Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST)
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Featured image: Katie Johnson & Solidarity Knows No Borders
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